Scores of teachers have voiced their complaints about the state of public education in the U.S.: the prevalence of standardized tests, teachers being laid off, class sizes getting ever bigger.
Now it seems that educators in the UK have the same problems. The Guardian reports on last month’s National Union of Teachers conference, which opened with this address by Marilyn Harrop, union president:
Pressure, more pressure, exam targets, league tables, more pressure, Ofsted, academies, free schools, forced academies, yet more pressure, no pay rise, job losses, bigger classes, fast-track capability procedures, attacks on pension provision, work until you’re 68, die at your loom, sorry, desk.
Gove Set To Destroy Foundations That Governed English Education For Over 100 Years
But there’s something even more significant going on: just as some of us are fearful of the growth of charter schools, the voucher movement and the apparent push to privatize education in the U.S., so many of my teacher colleagues in the UK are alarmed at what is happening in their schools.
Last month, official figures confirmed that the majority of secondary schools in the UK – 1,641 out of 3,261 – will have become academies by September. They will be “free” of local authority control and accountable solely to Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, who hopes academies will become the norm. In just two years, Gove will have destroyed the foundations of the power structure that governed English education for more than a century.
What Is An Academy?
Academies are state-maintained but independently-run schools in England set up with the help of outside sponsors. They have more freedoms than schools under local authority control. The brainchild of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, academies were established in 2000 to drive up standards by replacing failing schools in struggling local authorities.
Academies have more independence over what they teach, they can choose to award bonuses to their staff and pay headteachers £30,000 more than in other schools. They are not under local authority control and so arguably are subject to less bureaucracy and have more freedom over their budgets. They can change the length of the school term and day.
If these features sounds remarkably similar to charter schools and voucher programs, that’s because they are.
The biggest academy sponsor in England is the United Learning Trust, which runs 17 schools. Lord Harris of Peckham, the millionaire chair of Carpetright, supports eight south London city academies, Wellington academy in Wiltshire is sponsored by Wellington College, Peter Jones of Dragons’ Den sponsors an enterprise academy, and Microsoft sponsors IT academies. Early academies were set up by Sir Peter Vardy, a Christian philanthropist who was accused of advocating the teaching of creationism in science in the schools, and Graham Able, the head of the prestigious Dulwich college in London.
They are a controversial feature of the education landscape, and there have been numerous demonstrations against them.
From The Guardian:
As a survey by the thinktank Reform showed last week, most schools that convert to academy status do so because they get extra cash, which would otherwise be retained by local authorities for central services such as helping pupils with special needs. One school calculated it would get an extra £462 per pupil, a 10% rise. Most academies do not plan to change their curriculum, school day or admissions policy. Despite union fears, most will stick to national agreements on staff pay and conditions as, indeed, do most fee-charging schools.
So what is the point of academies? There are several possibilities. First, so-called “independent” academies increase the opportunities for commercial involvement in state-funded education. Many schools will use their extra cash to pay private companies to run anything from back-office management to teaching and learning programs.
Then again, without local authorities to hold the ring, schools will compete more fiercely for able and advantaged pupils who can boost exam scores. Academies will be allowed to expand their intakes even if that undermines neighboring schools by depriving them of pupils. And we’ve certainly seen how that works in the U.S.
And it just might be that the Tories would like to see the return of grammar schools, in place of comprehensive schools; this would be easier if schools were academies.
All Power To Central Government
The advance of academies means the demise of local education authorities, with all power going to the government in London, rather than being dispersed, as it used to be, with teachers, parents, local councils and central government all having rights and responsibilities defined by statute.
And that’s not a good thing.
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