Conservatives would turn 'coasting' schools into academies

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching unions have hit back at Conservative plans to force schools ‘requiring improvement’ to become academies.

In a speech today, David Cameron set out plans to convert around 3,500 ‘coasting’ schools to academy status if their Ofsted ratings do not improve.

The Prime Minister is proposing that all schools graded 'requires improvement' would have new leadership imposed on them and be taken over by an academy trust if they do not have a credible plan to raise them to 'good' or 'outstanding'.

Speaking at Kingsmead School in Enfield, Mr Cameron said, 'We are waging war on mediocrity. We are saying no more sink schools – and no more “bog standard” schools either.

'How will we do this? By saying to schools: if you’re not good or outstanding, you have to change. If you can’t do it yourself, you have to let experts come in and help you, people who have a track record of running great schools and turning around failing ones.

'Under a Conservative Government, any school that Ofsted says “requires improvement” and cannot demonstrate that it has the capacity to improve will have to become a sponsored academy.

'Academies have turned around hundreds of failing schools, so just think what they could do for hundreds more coasting ones.'
However, Unions highlighted reports from MPs on the cross-party education select committee and the public accounts committee, both published last week, which criticised the academies and free schools programme and pointed to the lack of evidence that it was leading to improved standards.

The education select committee said that there was no evidence that academies had ‘raised standards overall or for disadvantaged children.'

It also called for the Government to commission research, after finding that there was no evidence of improvement for primary academies.

Meanwhile, the public accounts committee report on school oversight and intervention, published on Friday, criticised the Department for Education’s ‘light touch’ approach.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers, said, ‘There is no evidence that academies raise standards of education. There is evidence, however, that the Government is unable to account for academy spending.

‘This is a Government which is bereft of ideas. When will politicians stop declaring war on schools? It doesn't help their image with parents, the public or with teachers who see their motives for what they are: self-serving, publicity seeking nonsense.’

The National Union of Teachers said that the Government should focus on issues such as insufficient school places, a drop in the number of applicants for teaching and fact that the number of teachers leaving the profession each year is at a 10-year high and has increased by 25 per cent since 2010.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said, ‘It really is time that this Emperor’s new clothes approach to education stopped.

‘How much more evidence does the Government need before it admits that its academy and free school programme has failed? It has failed on standards, failed on transparency, failed on accountability and failed to secure the trust of the public. It is a disgrace that the Government has allowed such a situation to develop, and is turning a deaf ear to the serious concerns raised by such a wide range of people.

‘It is very clear that the academies and free schools programme has nothing to do with standards but everything to do with a privatisation agenda. One of the first steps for whoever forms the Government in May must be to bring back all schools into local authority oversight and fit for purpose accountability systems.’

On Friday, Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the public accounts committee said the DfE had increased schools’ autonomy ‘without a proper strategy for overseeing the system. Its light touch approach means that problems in some schools can go undetected until serious damage has been done.

‘Confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the department, the Education Funding Agency, local authorities and academy sponsors has allowed some schools to fall through gaps in the system, meaning failure can go unnoticed.’

‘Early action to prevent decline or continuing poor performance in schools is rarely achieved. Oversight bodies need to work together to identify problems and intervene earlier in time to challenge and support schools.

‘The department does not know enough about the effectiveness of the sponsors who are supposed to improve schools through the academies programme. Some have expanded too fast and a significant number are failing to improve standards in their schools.’

The DfE has currently ‘paused’ the growth of 18 sponsors - educating around 100,000 children - because of concerns about their performance, she said.

She also said that the DfE ‘did not know whether local authorities have the capacity to improve their schools, or what interventions they use and at what cost.’

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