Toffs at the Top: My Case Against Academy Schools

What is everyone so upset about with Academy Schools?

All schools in the UK, as of this year, will become academy schools. It is a terrifying move by this government, which has set out, once again, to jeopardize a public service and serve the interests of businessmen. So, what is the deal with Academies? Well, these institutions are, in my opinion, designed to privatize schools and generate profit from people’s education. As when corporations are involved in the healthcare industry, I view this as immoral. The education of the next generation should not be dependent upon their wealth or background.

Myths about Academies

The first thing for you to understand is that Cameron’s recent statements about Academies are politicized nonsense: it is either the utmost ignorance or the most callous deception for David Cameron to keep stating that Academy schools have seen a marked improvement in pupil performance.

The figures that he keeps quoting are stated below, but if you look at the red and blue rings that I have put around two sets of figures, you will notice a detail that Cameron leaves out of his speeches: overall, academies would appear to be doing better than state schools on average. [1]

Academies paper stats edited

However, averages can be deceptive.

On the figures, academies would appear to be doing better than traditional state schools, but, this is not taking into account that there are two groups of academies: Academies which chose to convert voluntarily (ringed in blue) and those who were forced to convert into academies by Ofsted (ringed in red).

If you can see and understand this, you’ll notice something deceptive in what Cameron keeps claiming: that the schools which choose to become academies (which make up the majority of our current academies, due to a push by the coalition government in 2011) do very well, but the schools which are forced to become academies (as every state school in the country is now about to be), end up doing very badly in comparison with the national average.

Now, it must be understood, as experts such as Stephen Machin, Joan Wilson, and PwC reports have stated [2],that all studies on academies should be taken with a pinch of salt- there are very little concrete conclusions we can come to. And there are also a great many issues which arise from calculation due to factors such as the potential mean reversion [3].

But it is absolutely true to say that the government has systematically set out to deceive the public, by converting the best schools into academies, so that they could start a forced conversion process based on manipulated figures.
Studies done by groups such as NAO have had to cast doubt on their own figures because there were “relatively more advantaged pupils attending the academy as compared to the predecessor school.” [2]

Similarly, Stephen Machin and James Vernoit state that, according to their studies, the schools which have already converted to academies are relatively “characterised by having a more advantaged pupil population (lower free school meal, special educational needs and ethnic minority status) and superior GCSE attainment.” [3]

Aside from the pupils being more advantaged, the schools themselves are more advantaged, and have been aided by the government, so that they can claim that academies are a complete success story. It is a flat-out lie: they are (at the very least) no more successful than state schools.

pointy finger

The government achieved this by fast tracking schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted into academy status [3], and this might explain why the teachers at these schools were paid (according to National Audit Office figures) “13% more than teachers in other state-maintained secondary schools.” [2]

And if you needed further proof that Cameron is attempting to deceive the public, the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, even stated that academy status makes no difference to how a school will perform [4]- the exact opposite of what Cameron has claimed about academy status.

It is flat out untrue to say that academies perform better than traditional state schools, or that they raise standards. What the government has done is like taking an Olympic archer to a beginners archery class for 30 minutes, then claiming that they teach archery so well that they’ve made an Olympic archer in 30 minutes…therefore all archery coaches should now follow the government’s model.

It takes huge and ridiculous leaps in logic.

Corruption in academies

The next thing to understand is that academies are taken out of the hands of local authorities, and placed in the hands of a “trust.” Without wanting to be too subtle, a trust is a business. They have “charity” status so they don’t have to pay tax and can accept massive donations, but they are in fact a business. They are there to maximise profit.

Mostly these come in the form of Multi-Academy Trusts, or MATs for short. The only difference between these MATs and your door mat is that these MATs get to tread all over you. Because their primary interest is profit- educating the next generation is merely an afterthought.

images

Given that these MATs are businesses, it is unsurprising that they are slowly bringing ghastly corporate catch phrases that only a poorly placed ‘team building exercise’ can create. Things like “Guardian of the Flame” as one of the jobs of the CEOs. [5]

Nevertheless, it must be asked, has any of this actually led to corruption?

And the answer, of course, is it has led to a ridiculous degree of corruption.

So much so that the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, once again felt the need to complain:
‘ “Given these worrying findings about the performance of disadvantaged pupils and the lack of leadership capacity and strategic oversight by trustees, salary levels for the chief executives of some of these MATs do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies,” wrote Sir Michael Wilshaw’ [6]

What was he talking about? Well, on more than a few occasions, there have been cases of falling standards in schools while MAT CEOs pay themselves double salaries [7], cases where they are paying themselves six figure sums as grades of the schools in their charge plummet [8] [9], and cases where they’ve chosen to pay £170,000 salaries to the MAT CEOs and head teachers, in addition to spending thousands of pounds on a single office desk. [10]

Despite the hard evidence to the contrary, many people will claim that I am simply not being open minded enough, and that the idea of corporations taking over is simply a conspiracy theory.

But, bear in mind…

Because they are being separated, once a school becomes an academy, it is no longer entitled to the services provided by the local authority, which include, but are not limited to:

– advisory services
-special educational needs (SEN)
-disability support
-behaviour support
– child and adolescent health and social care services
– emergency contingencies
-training and professional development
-payroll support
– facilitation of school networks.

And so Academy schools need to find a way to pay for these services on top of everything else. As the teachers union ATL state: “There would be no backstop, unless, like many existing academies, you contract to a private company or trust that charges a top-slice for services, in which case you have exchanged ‘local authority control’ for control by a private company.” [11]

That is what this boils down to: private companies will now have a greater say, and will be able to profit and proselytise from children’s education.

Despite the restrictions which mean that even Academies must hold two parent governors, on average, the majority of the governors (7/13 in most cases [3]) will be undemocratically chosen by the sponsor, to represent their interests in the governing of the schools.[11]

ATL also mention that any complaints made by parents will have to go directly to the Secretary of State for Education- so you’d better hope that Nicky Morgan or one of her acolytes has got time to hear what you have to say (I’ll give you a clue: she hasn’t. And her office will be flooded with complaints.)

Academies are virtually unaccountable, and filled to the brim with corporate corruption, but that’s just the start…

The Teaching Profession

Teachers will be hit extremely hard by this, and the first thing to understand is what will happen to teacher’s rights as a result of forced academisation.

Under local authority rule (the current system), teachers are guaranteed time for planning and preparation. The problem is that under an academy system, they are no longer guaranteed this time, and the decision of how much time they get for planning and preparation may be made by a naïve business person, who doesn’t know (for example) that a GCSE practice paper takes 15 minutes to mark, and the teachers may have to get through 60 or more per week.

But the ultimate insult to the teaching profession is the fact that, under an academy, the teachers don’t even have to be qualified to teach. What the government are saying is that “Anyone can teach and your training was a waste of time.”

It is deeply insulting to some of the best teachers I have had in my time throughout high school and sixth form (I’m currently a year 13 student).

teacherswholoveteaching

Teachers contracts are protected by TUPE laws (a law which guarantees your pay and conditions if a company changes hands), but only on the condition that their job title and working hours remain the same- if they deviate at all (for example if they want to work part time to care for children or a vulnerable adult when they aren’t working), then the new contract- which might include a lower salary- can be imposed upon them. [11]

Now let’s think logically about this: are a business, who are out to maximise efficiency per pound of investment ( so they have more money to spend on buying fancy desks for CEOs [10]) likely to be able to understand the teaching profession in enough depth to take into account proper planning and preparation time?

It could happen, but it’s extremely risky.

ALT also noted: “Some academies pay less maternity pay than their neighbouring schools. In some cases, staff who have moved to an academy have not had their previous service recognised for maternity purposes and have lost all built-up entitlement to maternity pay.” [11]

So we can gather that Academies are prepared to exploit teachers in the most disgusting way just to save money- my question would be: why risk it?

If you don’t know, there is already a crisis in teaching: far too few teachers. This forced academisation will only exacerbate the problem.

Ultimately, the interest for Academy trusts will be in giving the MAT CEOs a decent salary and paying their sponsors well, in whatever way they can. This path that Cameron has set us down, I am convinced, will make the crisis in teaching ten times worse. And who can blame them? Would you want to be working longer hours for less pay, less rights, and for the generation of profit, as opposed to education, with no time to prepare  lessons, knowing that the government thinks that anyone can do your job? Suddenly teaching looks like an unattractive profession.

But, as always, the Conservatives were simply looking out for those ‘hardworking’ CEOs they always seem so concerned about…

The dismantling of the public sector

There is little or no doubt in my mind that this policy was set out to lower the standard of state schools. Conservative ideology has always been that the private system of education- where you learn what you can afford to learn- is superior to the state school system. In other words, they’d rather the plebs didn’t have an education; apparently it makes us difficult to handle with simple rhetoric…

Indeed, Machin and Vernoit do explicitly state several times, that academy schools “will exacerbate already existing educational inequalities.” [3] and that “under the Labour government, the programme was aimed at combating disadvantage, and we find evidence that it may actually have achieved this objective in schools that have had academy status for a long enough period. Under the coalition government, the academies programme is now likely to reinforce advantage and exacerbate existing inequalities in schooling.” [12]

How is this done?

Well, imagine a scenario: X and Y are applying for a job as a History teacher at a school.

X is, in fact, not qualified to be a teacher, but has a B in GCSE History, is extremely enthusiastic, and (bless him) somewhat naïve about how long he can work and how little rest he needs.

Y, whereas, is actually Dr.Y- he is a very experienced teacher with top qualifications and a very academic understanding of History, based off of the PHD he has in the History of early modern English monarchs, and the three years he spent on a teaching course and working as an examiner.

Under the old system, X (much as we love his enthusiasm) would be unable to apply.

However, in an academy, X will be able to apply.

But surely they’d never give X the job?

Well, let’s say, for example, that they could only afford (due to the amount of money that was being allocated by the MAT for this new teacher) to pay them £13,000 per year, for their full time work.

houses_3266129b

No one should be able to turn education into a money making scheme beyond a basic salary

Dr.Y is likely to refuse- he didn’t go through eight long years at university and three years of experience as an examiner to be paid the minimum wage: he has two children to feed, and a disabled partner who he promised to take care of.

X will get the job by default, while the upper class private school down the road, offers Dr.Y £27,000 per year to come and work as a History teacher for them.

This is how Academies will lower the standard of teaching in state schools and systematically centralise qualified teachers in private schools. This is the destruction of a public service, there is no other word for it.

And now many people feel that this will be used by the government to say something along the lines of “we tried to save state education, but it wasn’t working, so we’ll have to privatise the system- sell it off one chunk at a time.”

Given the fact that this government has manipulated data to deceive the public into believing that a schooling system, which actually causes harm to state owned schools, is superior, is it really that much of a stretch to imagine that this might be there end goal?

The whole thing reeks of corruption. Nicky Morgan and David Cameron have failed to convince me that they have children’s best interests at heart. The decision to force all schools to become academies against their wishes, will stand, I am convinced, as one of the worst decisions that has been made in British education, in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

References:

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/revised-gcse-and-equivalent-results-in-england-2014-to-2015
[2] http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED529842
[3] cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/pa011.pdf
[4] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/dec/10/ofsted-sir-michael-wilshaw-struggling-schools-academy-neglect
[5] http://www.future-leaders.org.uk/insights-blog/what-does-it-mean-be-ceo-multi-academy-trust/
[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35775458
[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35890448
[8] http://www.teachingtimes.com/news/poor-school-results.htm
[9] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/nov/14/academies-pay-200k-salaries
[10] http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/10/the-academy-head-the-4500-desk-and-the-170k-salary
[11] www.atl.org.uk/app-faq-20-01
[12] https://ideas.repec.org/p/cep/cepcnp/325.html

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