Think-tank calls for all primaries to convert to academies

Olivia McCrea-Hedley
Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A report by think-tank Policy Exchange says that all primary schools in England should convert to academies by 2020.

It estimates that in 2016 and 2017 more than 3,300 primary schools may fall below new standards, which come into force by 2016.

This equates to around 20 per cent of English primaries. This comes after figures from 2013 showed that 1,000 schools (6 per cent) failed to meet the standard.

The report's authors Annalese Briggs, education research fellow at Policy Exchange, and Jonathan Simons, head of education at the think-tank, ‘Primary Focus: The next stage of improvement for primary schools in England’ considers the new Key Stage 2 floor standards.

Under the new regime, 85 per cent of children will be expected to meet the equivalent of a ‘Good’ Level 4 in reading, writing and maths. The report includes figures from 2014 that show that 65 per cent of children currently achieve Level 4 at KS2.

The report says that there are several issues that will make it difficult to achieve these goals, including tighter funding budgets and a tougher national curriculum that will require a redesign of planned teaching content in primary schools.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, said, 'The Government has made great strides to improve the performance of our primary schools so that all children, regardless of their background, can read and write and add up to an appropriate standard when they reach secondary school. However, a potential perfect storm of a new curriculum and assessment system and a demand for higher standards accompanied by a decline in leadership and local authority capacity means that thousands of primary schools could be set to fail come 2016.'

The report concludes that the solution would be for all primary schools to convert to academies and have them form academy chains by 2020.

He added, 'Academy status is not some sort of panacea which will automatically lead to improvements. However, it is clear that the creation of groups of schools collaborating together and sharing best practice is what is needed, and this report sets out a framework for how this can be maximised.'

As of August 2014 there were only 2,040 primary school academies in comparison with 14,748 maintained primary schools. A complete conversion would allow schools to share the power of the best teachers, the best heads and the best schools, according to the report.

The National Union of Teachers has heavily criticised the report.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said the report's recommendations were 'absurd', highlighting Sweden as an example of how experimenting with a free-for-all in education can result in a drop in standards.

'We need to learn from this and not continue to peddle myths about the benefits of a fragmented system,' she said.

The writers recognise that this is not a full solution but they state that chains offer the best way to improve outcomes in the primary sector. This is because they encourage collaborative practices around teaching and learning and say it frees teachers to focus on what happens in classrooms.

However, Ms Blower remains unconvinced. She said, 'It is time to end these unnecessary reforms and return schools to the democratic oversight and accountability of local authorities.'

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