Ed Balls is the Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly the Department for Education and Skills, formerly the Department of Education and Employment, formerly the Department for Education, formerly the Department of Education and Science – one wonders if they just like new stationery.) In March, Mr Balls approved the creation of five new ‘Academies’ which are like secondary schools which are part publicly funded but fall outside of Local Authority control. One of these academies will be Maltby Academy, which will replace the current Maltby Community School.
This will be co-sponsored by Rotherham MBC, u-explore and Sheffield Hallam University (who have a web site which is very comprehensive but doesn’t mention Maltby Academy at all). As I write this I am unsure as to how much money each will be putting in – I’m not sure SHU is putting any cash in, and may just be offering expertise – I’m writing the post as a way of getting my own head around the proposals so hopefully we’ll both be clear by the end …
You can read a little about the plans on the website of the current Maltby Community School. The plans include combining Maltby Hall Infancty School and Lilly Hall Junior School as well as turning MCS into Maltby Acaddemy by September 2009 – that is in five months.
The following background on Academies is shamlessly lifted and edited from Wikipedia.
An Academy is a type of secondary school which is independent of Local Education Authority control but is publicly funded, with some private sponsorship. This type of school was initiated in 2000 and known as a city academy for the first few years, but the term was changed to “academy” by an amendment in the Education Act 2002.
They were first announced in a speech by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in 2000. Academies are intended to address the problem of historic and entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, or schools situated in communities with little or no academic aspirations.
Whilst still in the fairly early stage of development (although there are over a hundred academies, only a handful have been open for more than four years), the emerging evidence so far is positive, with substantial rises in attainment results at Key Stage 3 and GCSE occurring each year.
Academies are currently subject to an independent five-year evaluation by the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers who have to date published three annual reports consisting of both “hard” and “soft” data concerning the open academies.
The House of Commons Education & Skills Select Committee reported in March 2005 that it would have been wiser to limit the programme to 30 or 50 academies in order to evaluate the results before expanding the programme, and that “the rapid expansion of the Academy policy comes at the expense of rigorous evaluation”. The Select Committee was concerned that the promising results achieved by some academies may be due to increased exclusions of harder-to-teach pupils. They noted that two Middlesbrough academies had expelled 61 pupils, compared to just 15 from all other secondary schools in the borough.
The programme of creating academies has also been heavily criticised by some for handing schools to private sector entrepreneurs who in many cases have no experience of the education sector – most famously, the Evangelical Christian car dealer, Sir Peter Vardy, who has been accused of promoting the teaching of creationism alongside macroevolution in his Emmanuel Schools Foundation academies. This is also linked to the wider debate in the education sector as to the benefits or otherwise of the growing role of religion in the school system being promoted by the New Labour government in general, and Tony Blair in particular, with many academies (one estimate puts it at “more than half”) being sponsored either by religious groups or organisations/individuals with a religious affiliation.
There are indications that several city academies are failing. Ofsted has placed the Unity Academy in Middlesbrough and the Richard Rose City Academy in Carlisle under Special Measures, heavily criticised the West London Academy in Ealing and condemned standards at the Business academy in Bexley, Kent, which is now earmarked for closure.
The Richard Rose City Academy in Carlisle, sponsored by Eddie Stobart owner Andrew Tinkler, and local businessman Brian Scowcroft opened in September 2008. By January 2009, there were protests by parents and pupils regarding poor quality education and school facilities. The school was found to be failing and was placed in Special Measures, with the headmaster and chief executive being immediately replaced.
The programme has further been attacked for its expense: typically it costs on average £25m to build an academy, much of which is taken up by the costs of new buildings. Critics contend that this is significantly more than it costs to build a new local authority school.
These are pretty damning criticisms – they cost more, they are open to abuse by their sponsors because they are out of LEA control (despite the LEA often paying 90% of the cost), they tend to solve the problem of unruly pupils by simply refusing to teach them – thus forcing the LEA to increase the concentration of ‘problem’ pupils at it’s remaining schools, and, ultimately that their prime motiviation as institutions is not to educate children, but to make a profit.
One also wonders what the point of Select Committees is when the govenrnment is so free to ignore the recommendation to limit the experiment to 30 or 50 schools.
Those supporting academies point to the fact that many have much improved exam results compared to the schools they replaced – but there seems to be little way of measuring the impact. To do that you would need to create an academy on one area, and the in a similar area spend the same amount of money on a normal school and see how the two compared. As far as I know that hasn’t been done.