Academies are a high risk gamble

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Moor Smith Cops

Illingworth

Halifax

It is now widely accepted that the deregulation of the banks and their increased freedoms led to unacceptable levels of risk, allowing a few people to profit greatly at the expense of the majority.

There are parallels now in the education system with the encouragement of schools to deregulate and gain new freedoms with academy status.

Governing Bodies are being encouraged to free themselves from local authority “ control “ and staff pay and conditions. A conflict of interest arises for head teachers and senior management who occupy a key position to influence the Governing Body whilst standing to gain most financially from the conversion.

The National Audit Office report Sept 2010 showed that on average the number of senior staff per academy earning £80,000+ was 50% higher than in secondary schools generally. Yet academies can pay what they like to new staff. No wonder all the education unions are anti-academy.

And what “ control “ does the local authority have over schools? The question is about whether LAs or private companies should provide support services. Clearly LAs benefit from economies of scale and can respond flexibly in time of need and crisis. The more schools that become academies the less viable LA services will become and the supply of these services may become a problem.

Both of my daughters attend North Halifax Grammar School whose GB will make its decision about academy status. Many parents at the school appear to want to keep the selective nature of the school but the National Grammar School Association continue to urge extreme caution.

Its chair Robert McCartney QC explained how the existing protection of Grammar status by the need for a parental ballot may not apply to academies. The DfE had suggested that it did but now say “ no decisions on the policy have yet been taken.

If NHGS becomes an academy the decision is irreversible so why are we rushing into a decision when there are so many unknowns? It is unlikely that the start up grant will cover the costs; nobody has done a costed assessment of needs and no-one seems to know what level of support NHGS will be required to give to a weaker school.

In the difficult times ahead schools and LAs should protect one another in the fight against central government cuts. Academies are a divisive high risk gamble and if they fail will need a tax payer bail out.

And what about academic values? Mr Maslan is headteacher at NHGS and teaches critical thinking skills but he is content with a final decision being made about academy status before anyone has made a case for it. Cameron has handed the GB power so why should they bother with persuasion ? What an example to set for students who have been so recently so disempowered by the same man!

Jane Smith