The Labour government may be finished, but it has not given up on its drive to strip Britain’s schools of all semblance of democratic control. Any price is worth paying, it reckons, to create its new academies. Even handing the control of the new state-funded schools over to religious fundamentalists…
Several South London local authorities met in Brixton recently to discuss the present and future forms of school leadership. Called “Future Forms of Leadership”, the conference could have been better-titled “Future Forms of School Ownership” for what was on display was the full panoply of present and presently-to-be-in-place types of school invented by this dying government. We now have federated schools, foundation schools, trust schools, academies and soon ASGs, or Accredited School Groups.
Ironic, really, that local authorities should promote these forms of school, as they are mostly designed precisely to remove local authority control of local schools, federations excepted.
Foundation schools control their own admissions and can exercise enormous controls over development plans. One South London school, for example, wants to be able to expand from being a primary to running its own boarding secondary provision. It’s likely that later next year it will be free to do just that. Other foundations are cleverly combining primaries and secondaries in order to “ring fence “ admissions and transfer to secondary school.
In similar vein, trust schools are governed by a combination of local authority, sponsor, staff and parental representatives with the local authority having a diminished role. At least they have the merit of potentially allowing a degree of local control.
It is the academies programme, however, that is the Government’s “flagship” programme. Academies are largely controlled by their ”sponsors” with one local authority governor if the LA has co-sponsored. The aim is for there to be 400 academies in secondary education. Fewer than 200 have so far been inaugurated but sponsorship has become so loose a term more are sure to follow.
When academies were started by Blair, the expectation was that each “sponsor” would come up with £2 million of the capital required with the government forking out the other £20 million or so. In exchange, the sponsors got their own state-funded school: the property was theirs, they could appoint the maintenance contract and so on.
Typically, fundamentalist Christians with deep pockets and deeper and darker medievalist outlooks grabbed the chance to mould children’s thoughts – a bit like non-Catholic Jesuits. An associate of Blair, Vardy from Sunderland, put money into some North-Eastern academies. However, these schools then tried to impose their mores onto staff transferred over from former schools and change the science curriculum to introduce “Creationism” as a scientific concept. A singular feature of these schools has been the very un-Christian high rate of exclusions and unimpressive rate of improvement in standards.
We now have 12 United Learning Trust Christian academies. These have cost the working class around £300 million to build and equip. ULT promised just over £20 million towards the costs; they have paid £10.7 million. Oasis Community Learning, another Christian group with three academies in London and Grimsby have paid a miserly £308,000 out of the £6 million promised.
God and Mammon
It looks as though the recession has zapped God more than Mammon. Harris academies, sponsored by Lord Harris (of Carpetright), run a chain of nine schools in South London. Seven of these have received £3.7 million out of £8.5 million expected. The R.C. Diocese of Southwark leapt at the opportunity to establish St. Paul’s Academy in Greenwich. Since 2005, they’ve stumped up about £200,000 out of the £2 million expected.
Harefield in West London, sponsored by the owner of a cosmetics company, has still not received the £1.5 million expected. So, the government announces that instead of money, sponsors just have to prove they’re fit and proper people to run a school and they can have a school without having to find any up-front cash. That’s a bit like the takeover talk around the purchases of some of our football clubs and their results don’t look good either!
Even though there has been a serial relaxing of the financial rules since 2005, academies set up by August 2008 had only received 40 per cent of the sponsorship money that had been promised. Of course, there are no penalty clauses. The sponsors have kept their schools.
The government has since entered into “side agreements” with some sponsors whereby we provide extra funding to help sponsors meet their financial commitments. A bit like the banks. Repayment is deferred and taken from future funding so the children pay, in effect.
At present, some reports indicate that the Government has taken over ULT’s commitments. So, we end up paying for a bunch of crazed Christians to force their addled ideology upon our children. They get the school property, dish out the cleaning, IT, maintenance and procurement contracts, choose their children to the potential detriment of neighbouring schools’ intakes and significantly, take the school away from any form of democratic control. They also operate their own pay structures, breaking up national pay scales and conditions for teaching and other staff.
In some London Boroughs, Southwark being the most significant, it is difficult to send your child to a secondary school that isn’t either a denominational school, a foundation school or an academy. ARK (American finance capital) and Harris academies have taken over a number of struggling local schools in the past five years.
Of course, workers faced with the prospect of sending their child to a struggling local school are going to be tempted by the prospect of a brand new building and blandishments of a bright new future. For cash-strapped local authorities the prospect of getting a new school often where the former school has been plagued by poor results and systemic collapse is too great an incentive.
In spite of the paeans of praise heaped upon academies by schools minister Vernon Coaker and his opposite number Gibb, the results for academies are as mixed as they are for other schools. Coaker boasted in December of the 6% rise in results for academies this year. But other local schools in comparable areas often did as well or better. He trumpets Ofsted’s findings but two academies in Sheffield this year have been found to be inadequate. Handing over the problem is no guarantee of solving it.
Following the successful fight at against an academy in Docklands, London, at the Royal Docks School – establishing a local trust instead – other groups of parents and communities are trying to resist academies taking over their schools.
The fight continues in North-amptonshire, where in spite of 97 per cent of respondents opposing the academy, the council appears to want to continue the changeover. In Hastings, where the proposal to close three secondaries and create two academies has received a mixed reaction, the debate is in full flow.
But what we can see happening is a train of thought that will rapidly move secondary schooling away from local control, diminish the accountability of those who run our schools and break up local authorities. Additionally and key is the ability of workers in the sector to create a core of resistance with parents to defend their schools. Not easy unless the school is held in high esteem in the first place. We have to have the highest regard for our children’s future.