Today, I took myself off to London to go to the Academies Show with a couple of colleagues to take a look at what is involved in the Academy business and if any answers can be found over whether conversion is a good thing or not.
It has always been my opinion that there needs to be a compelling argument to change for a school to make the leap from the local authority to become an academy. A simple financial incentive is not enough for me. I need to be convinced that the education of the children will be inexorably improved by the changes that are made in converting to academy status.
The trouble is, that the evidence to base this decision on is extremely hard to find. Case studies are few and far between, and the ones that do exist do not provide enough detail to help. So it was my hope that today’s show would help provide some insight.
So, you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered no new information. I did see over 100 stands of service providers looking to spend your public money in providing services to academies. No doubt business relationships were struck up today that will be worth millions of pounds to people who provide financial services, HR services, legal services etc. But for a governor looking for an insight into the academy programme, the information provided was nothing new.
In a nutshell, the government and local authorities are looking for private companies to run our schools. All of our schools.
The government has opened up the education sector to market forces, where school leadership teams will control budgets and determine where best to spend their money. If they have the expertise to run services currently bought back from the Local Education Authority, then they will go ahead. If they don’t, then they will outsource this and employ an external company to provide the service. This means the school leadership teams will now become school business teams, potentially pre-occupied with the tender process for services and delivering business objectives.
In my mind, the key question of education has got lost in this melee of reorganisation. As schools are constantly reminded by their Local Education Authority of the numbers of schools converting, and the dilution of support services provided by the LEA, a climate is developing where school leaders may consider converting because everyone else is doing it. Not because it is the best decision for the school, not because the potential financial advantage will lead to better educational outcomes, but because they don’t want to be forced to do it when the LEA becomes unable to provide the essential services.
I am yet to be convinced that converting to an academy will be in my school’s best interest. This is largely because I think the school currently does a very good job, performing well above national average results, whilst spending less on average per pupil than the national average. The headteacher is already allowed freedom over the curriculum and there does not seem to be an overwhelming desire for change.
I have not seen anything today in London to change my mind