As an avid footballer during my younger years, the word “Academy” was something to get excited about. Manchester United had an academy, and that’s who I wanted to play for. Unfortunately, my first touch was what most others would describe as a pass, so the United academy was out of the question. Although, such a first touch hasn’t held Wayne Rooney back.
Ministers are set to announce that every school in the country is to become an academy. Despite my mental association of only good things from the word, academies of the school variety are causing angst and debate throughout the country. This “forced academisation” sounds like a process in the bracket of “ethnic cleansing” and not a mechanism by which our school system is going to improve. So why the move? What do we stand to gain?
Many see academisation as a move towards the privatisation of education. With privatisation comes icky motives such as profit mongering and efficiency savings; not words you want to associate with our altruistic and academic education system. Privatisation means a move towards behaving like a business. But education is not a business, is it? It is the means of self development and improvement, the means by which our young people discover the world and learn how to become a fully functioning member of society.
Economics states that anything that doesn’t have a cost becomes inefficient. We see this with our beloved NHS. The queues in A&E on a Sunday attest to this. Got a grazed knee? Get to A&E. There’s no cost for use, so people use the service inefficiently. By privatisation, we move towards a more economically viable mode of operation. If you have to pay for something, you think twice about how you use it. We have seen this at Kloodle. Foreign students seem to be far more engaged and hard working than us locals. They feel the immediate impact of their British education in their back pocket. So they use it wisely. They make the most of the opportunity. Free education is a right to us locals, so we don’t have to use it efficiently. If we want to waste it, that’s our prerogative. As a result, our students are less engaged and adopt an entitlement mentality.
Would academisation solve this problem? Does the formation of an academy result in increased accountability to the consumer? Would poor performance mean a lack of demand and the academy going out of business? Would academisation result in better wages and more rewards for the best teachers? Harsher sanctions for poor teachers? Would poor student performance result in parents paying for the resources they have wasted? These questions are difficult to answer. Education is not a commodity. Its motivation isn’t purely economic. Benefits from a good education don’t transfer to the bottom line of our economy alone, so the argument cannot be purely an economic one.
Education for education’s sake needs to be at the core of any revolution. At the centre of this should be the learning of our children, and the “learning journey”. If academies are the best mechanism through which to improve student learning, then great, lets convert every school into an academy. Let’s convert Whitehall into an Academy. They could do with the facelift. I feel, however, that the solution isn’t as cut and dried as it seems on the surface. Each school has context. What works best in one instance will fail in another. There are so many variables that contributes to the making of a school that forming a blueprint is impossible.
The solution? Rely on the professionals. Accountability to government should be high level and joined up. Micromanaging targets will not work. Misunderstanding context will create issues too. We need to hand the responsibility back to the leaders of each school and provide the autonomy to make the best decisions for their school. Schools need to set their own definitions of successful, in conjunction with governing bodies. They should then be allowed to form the plans and mechanisms required to reach these definitions of success. Leaders should be trusted to operate with the interests of their pupils, parents, staff and local community at heart. Schools should be allowed to view themselves as the lynchpin of the local community and behave accordingly. Their policies should focus on producing the outcomes necessary to serve their locality. We only achieve this by allowing autonomy and control.
But perhaps this is what an academy is? An effort to allow control at school level…. Who knows.