Councillor Fay Howard today raised concerns about the newer Academies in Swindon. Conversations with staff and governors at schools appear to indicate the main reason schools are opting to become Academies is the belief that they will get more money at a time when schools budgets are facing savage cuts.
It is thought the bonus will be greater for those who go early, and in future Academies will recieve less. The Government therefore appears to be bribing schools in order to see the number of Academies rise. For those schools unable to comtemplate the Academy route there is nothing they can do but wait for their budget allocation. They will have to watch as services once shared across all Swindons schools disappear, and the budget that once provided these services is transferred to Academies.
The new Academies are often the highest performing schools (as assessed by Ofsted) and, now that they are receiving even more money, there is real concern that the gap between them and struggling schools will widen further. This is entirely the opposite of the concept of Academies implemented by the Labour Government. Then it was the struggling schools which benefited from increased outside funding.
A total of 371 English secondary schools are now Academies, that’s 11% of all secondary schools in England which are independent of local authorities. Teachers unions: ATL, NASUWT, NUT & Unison have all raised concerns at the speed in which new academies were brought in. They point out that an Ipsos-MORI poll found that 96 per cent of parents want a good local school run by local councils, and are against giving more power to head teachers by a ratio of 9:1.
In a joint letter to the Times they state ‘surely an essential principle for all education reform is that it must raise educational standards. All of the independent evidence confirms that Academy schools do not deliver better educational outcomes for pupils, but they cost more money, and create widespread inequality and social segregation.’
With local Swindon schools opting to receive the financial incentive that comes with becoming an Academy, services that all have previously shared are being reduced. The axe has yet to fall fully, but already some Primary support has already been affected. The local authority, Swindon Council has no say in how an Academy school is run, leaving a two-tier system with some schools accountable and supported by the Council and others not. Academies can set their own pay and conditions for staff, set aside parts of the curriculum and change the length of the school day. Headteachers carry greater responsibilty without the support of outside sponsors received by the older Academies. They are responsible for their own premises and maintenance without the support of the local Council. If it works well – fine, but if doesn’t what then – will the Council have to pick up the bill?
For those left behind, schools and students, the Council can only offer less support and fewer services as the budget shrinks. Once again we are tasting the Tory old favourite, those that have take, & those who don’t can go without
Councillor Fay Howard is Labour’s spokesperson for children and young peoples services and represents Parks Ward.