Before we get started, I think it is important to stress what an ‘Academy’ is so that we understand exactly what an academy school is not.
Academy schools are publicly funded independent schools, they needn’t follow the National Curriculum and they receive money direct from the Government as oppose to the Local Authority.
In recent months the topic of academies has dominated much of education gossip columns and question times with the dooming, looming prospect of all schools in England being turned into academies hanging above the entrance halls. And for what reason? Because they are said to ‘perform better’ and achieve ‘better results’. So of course, a one-size-fits-all label is then written into another manifesto which is to smother already ‘good’ schools.
The way I see it is that variety is the spice of life and there are more than one chain of supermarket brand for that very reason, we all have different needs and wants when it comes to our weekly shopping experience. So if a group of people sat in offices in London suddenly decided that every ‘outstanding’ supermarket should be partnered with an ‘underperforming’ or ‘inadequate’ supermarket across the nation, with a view to cloning and creating a one-brand, one-size, one-taste, one-value supermarket to raise the achievement and successes of supermarkets across the world. Well, honestly, would that ever happen? Of course not, how ridiculous I hear you shout at the screen now.
My question then is, why? Why is it always the default setting to turn all attention to Education or the NHS? If you work in a good school, then you know that it is a good school and likewise if you work in a school that does require improvement, then please, show me a school that doesn’t. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one. And believe me, we all know our own faults and failings in our schools, we know where we get things right and we know where we need to improve.
Let me try a different analogy for all you fellow teachers out there (I fist bump my chest and salute you all). Now, we all enjoy a mixed ability pairing once in a while, sit a child who is struggling with a child who isn’t and hope for the best practise to be spread out evenly amongst the two. It’s nice, it’s cute and the children like it…sometimes. But what if that was to happen all day every day? How would the child who is struggling inevitably feel? Like they were useless, naturally. And what about the achiever? They could either be filled with a sense of elitism and confidence or they could take their own eye off the ball in order to help fulfil the task they know their teacher has asked of them – to help their partner.
How is it any different for schools? Should it be different? I don’t think so, other than for opportunities for schools to work in partnership with each other, sharing good practise and building strong relationships within the community for the sake of the children. But this already happens within Local Authorities, subject specific cluster groups, moderating teams and networking meetings are created for this very reason. The only real argument for academy schools is that they are said to raise attainment, but as I have researched this topic and scoured many a website and spoken to countless colleagues, there is very little evidence to suggest there is any truth in the statement.
The freedom of choice in terms of curriculum may indeed help with the engagement and motivation of pupils and staff might feel more competent which in turn would all help towards good teaching and learning. But, a test is a test, is a test and at the end of the year all children will sit their standard assessment tests for their age, a one-size-fits-all test, however that doesn’t mean that schooling should follow suit.
Academy schools are not proven to raise attainment, sometimes they do, and sometimes they do not. I think a better question to ask ourselves (or indeed our Government) would be, what can we do to raise attainment in all schools for all children?
The best answer I can come up with is – ask the teachers and ask the children and I am more than positive that not one teacher or child will utter the word ‘academy’.