Gove's plan to privatise academies and free schools

(141 Posts)
muminlondon Tue 12-Feb-13 23:37:33
prh47bridge Wed 13-Feb-13 00:27:01

I only have the quotes in the Independent to go on but none of the direct quotes from the DfE documents supports the conclusion they draw. They may be correct that the intention is to allow academies to make a profit.

On the other hand I know the DfE is unhappy that, because academies are regarded as part of the public sector, they need to get Treasury approval for certain expenditure before it is incurred, e.g. paying a departing member of staff more than they are obliged to contractually. The DfE argued that academies should not be subject to these rules but the National Audit Office sided with the Treasury, increasing costs for the DfE significantly. If academies were reclassified as private sector it would cut government costs (the aim of the proposal according to this article) even if the rules continued to require academy operators to be charities.

Given the number of schools that have willingly converted to academies I don't see that forcing underperforming schools to convert is in any way related to an alleged privatisation agenda.

Having said all of that, I personally have no objection to schools making a profit provided the standard of education offered does not suffer and the cost to the taxpayer does not go up.

muminlondon Wed 13-Feb-13 07:36:35

I have many objections, not least because

- It was never part of the coalition agreement so there has been no legislation or debate. It is not wanted by the voting public.
- It's being done by the backdoor and is not transparent at all. There are special political advisers at the DfE with bullying tactics (@ToryEducation), an enforcing 'broker' team who have visited schools and LAs even with outstanding Ofsted ratings trying to pressurise them to convert, and people with interests on its board of directors like the one who was a trustee of the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange as well as the network that encourages free schools as well as an academy chain chairman so would stand to gain personally from forced conversion.
- There was massive overspend by £1 billion by the DfE on the academies programme yet no proof that that academies are any more effective than community schools of the same intake. Yet lots of proof that the dramatic improvement of London schools was down to the London Challenge and collaboration between schools not competition.
- Even ex-independent schools joining the public as free schools are not as successful or efficient as they have been promoted to be - not many Ofsted under the new regime but Batley Grammar School received a "Requires improvement' and its data management is 'not fit for purpose'. Reclassifying them as private further hides them as private schools do not have to publish figures on prior attainment in the league tables.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 09:40:22

Given appallingly bad behaviour as a result of a warped personal profit motive in the private sector resulted in global recession, I really don't like the exponential increase in the role of the private sector and the profit motive in the most important aspects of our lives.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 09:43:55

And prh47bridge - IT IS NOT A GENUINE CHOICE ANY MORE TO CONVERT TO ACADEMY STATUS IN MANY COUNTIES, IT IS JUST A MATTER OF WHEN AND HOW, whether you like it or not. Are you actually a governor of a school anywhere??? You talk in such a neutral way about it, I get the impression you haven't been subjected to the actual pressure...

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 09:45:10

or maybe you chose before the pressure came????... and obviously you don't object to the idea. Is that because you are deluded into thinking all good and outstanding schools really have a choice?

prh47bridge Wed 13-Feb-13 10:02:22

Just for clarity:

- any change to the status of academies or to allow them to make a profit will need legislation (and hence debate) before being introduced

- unless there are changes allowing schools to make a profit no-one stands to gain personally from forced conversion

- charities are generally part of the private sector

- the DfE were very unhappy when the NAO ruled that academies are central government entities and hence require Treasury approval before incurring certain costs. Both the DfE and the Charities Commission were of the view that academies are independent charities subject to charity law and not part of central government. This decision by the NAO imposed significant additional costs for no apparent benefit. Making it clear that academies are private sector entities would reduce government costs even if academies remain as charities

- I accept the Independent may be right that the agenda is to allow schools to run at a profit although they did not produce any direct quotes from the document to support this conclusion

- reclassifying academies as private sector entities will not hide anything. This government changed the law so that academies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. They could, of course, change it back again but I would be surprised if they did so

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 10:51:09

Sounds like toeing the party line again. Don't you actually have to know what to ask to get information under the Freedom of Information Act? Who is going to be asking the questions, now that virtually nobody in the LA is employed to do so or interested? The DfE? Journalists with a non-educational background and agenda? What a lot of busy bees.

tiredaftertwo Wed 13-Feb-13 11:14:11

But rabbitstew, when was the golden age? When were LA-controlled schools, and LAs themselves, open, accountable to their communities, and subject to public scrutiny?

Making an FOI request is actually very straightforward - have you tried it?

I have no idea about the ins and outs of academy status, but I certainly do not think that being an LA-controlled school automatically means that governance is good, or transparent. Or that such schools necessarily serve their communities well. The devil is in the detail surely.

A glance down MN's education boards will demonstrate quite how difficult it can be to get basic information about schools.

prh47bridge sounds neutral I think because he/she presents facts as facts, can substantiate them, and makes clear what is his/her opinion. A tremendously useful service.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 12:20:08

Who said there was ever a golden age? However, you don't have to look far back to know what life was like when all schools were privately run and most people got very little education.
Yes, making a FOI request is very straightforward. Getting the answers you seek is not, nor is knowing what to ask. Do you really think that Act makes getting the answers easier than other ways? And who do you think is going to be asking the questions, anyway?

Of course LA controlled schools do not automatically have good governance. They don't control who all the governors are, anyway... They certainly don't prevent good governance, though, any more than academy schools do.

Allowing schools to make a profit, though, would quite clearly not improve education for all. Some schools could become hugely profitable and others hugely loss making and it is hard to make profits out of difficult cases, so all I can see is an ever widening divide between the haves and the have nots and even more desperate scrambling for places and moving about the countryside than we see now. Yet I thought it was this divide that people disliked and found so stressful??? And what facts has prh47bridge substantiated? He or she has provided no evidence whatsoever that academisation is a good idea or an improvement? It's nothing but a huge experiment that is irreversible.

prh47bridge Wed 13-Feb-13 12:46:41

I am not here to toe any party line. I am not offering any opinion as to whether academies are good or bad as I don't feel I know enough to make a judgement.

Your questions about academies and the FoI Act apply equally to LA-controlled schools (or, indeed, any other public body). In order to get information you have to know what you want. You can, of course, word your request reasonably generally - "I would like all papers relating to any discussions that have taken place regarding the playing field in the last 12 months", for example, but if you try to make it too general you may get the request refused on cost grounds.

tiredaftertwo Wed 13-Feb-13 12:56:48

I agree with you - there never has. Schools have often been unaccountable and not subject to proper public scrutiny, under all systems.

Yes, actually, the FOI requests I have made (from Dept of Education) produced the information I wanted quickly. Lots of people make FOI requests, including members of the public interested in their local education system. I did not say it makes getting the answers easier then other ways - why do you say I did?

I believe that the academy programme is a large and dangerous experiment (opinion). To oppose it, given the political landscape, we need to get our facts straight.

Where did prh47bridge say that academisation is a good idea? The points highlight as I understand it the difference between being private sector (including charities) and being profit-making. Those distinctions are vital to understanding what is going on, nothing to do with the party line.

I don't want to see schools become profit making (opinion).

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 13:24:26

Thanks - those are both helpful posts. I find it a bit concerning, however, that prh47bridge seems happy not to have any opinions on a huge experiment with state education. By the time you know enough to have an opinion, your opinion will probably be irrelevant as all the work will have been done, unless you think that the colossal changes which are going on can easily be reversed - but that requires you to give an opinion... my opinion is, it will not be easy to reverse and sitting on the fence now means it will, by the time of the next election, have become impossible to reverse.

I assumed, tiredaftertwo, that you felt getting the answers via FOI Act must be easier and better than any other way, because it was your response to my questions on knowing what you have to ask and who was going to be asking the questions, which implied to me that you felt it was easy and effective for anyone to ask questions, whatever their background, and by asking questions actually to make organisations accountable in some genuine way, rather than just find out information you can't do anything much with even if you want to. LAs used to ask schools for all sorts of information, so that they could do their job of keeping an eye on their schools. None of that is asked for by the LA any more. I just don't think centralising it to the DfE is going to increase the number of people able to scrutinise the data effectively - it is putting all that information into a small number of hands a very long way from the coal face.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 13:40:44

It is, in fact, turning schools into nothing more than data. The DfE will know nothing about the reality and clearly doesn't care, so long as the data looks OK (but chasing data and setting targets appears to have been a big part of the problem in State education in recent years, as schools cease to do what they think is right and instead chase the statistics....). School Improvement Partners etc have been done away with for good and outstanding schools, unless you pay for private providers - and schools, it seems, can pay who they fancy to come and observe them and give them advice, now, even close friends from nearby schools who then ask you to return the favour. It's a fantastic industry for back scratching. And we all know that OFSTED coming in for a couple of days will never get to understand anything other than what a school looks like on the surface for a brief period of time.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 13:43:16

Basically, with or without academies, the government is making a big balls up in the name of saving money, whilst not actually saving any money.

tiredaftertwo Wed 13-Feb-13 14:00:18

I agree with you that these changes will be irreversible, not least because Labour started the process, LAs will have lost skills and expertise etc etc. But also faith in the state as a provider of services has been so dented (perhaps with reason - I just don't know).

So I think the sort of hard info that prh, and other posters who clearly know their stuff and do not conflate facts with opinion, provides is invaluable - I really want to understand the detail of the process. Then I can challenge my gut instinct that not only do I not want schools to make profits, I would like them to be publicly controlled - and see if the facts support it. If they do, then I will be better placed to oppose them.

Some LAs performed well in their scrutiny role and others did not - but often the information they gathered was not available to the public, in the past. The FOI system has not replaced LAs providing information - it is additional and applies to all public bodies, and is a legal right. Of course you have to know or be able to work out how to exercise it - I never said you didn't. But the bar is not set artificially high.

There is a new field - data journalism - that mines the huge amount of detailed data now available, including that being dumped by government into the public domain. Analysis and journalism doesn't seem to have quite caught up with it, but it will happen (I hope - there are certainly a lot of courses!). In the meantime, if you type secondary schools league tables into google, you get a lot of detailed info about attainment, subdivided by children's previous achievement levels, subjects studied and so on. Much more information than a few years ago. It isn't perfect, I am sure still causes anomalies in the way these things always do, and no, it is very hard to make complex, technical, statistical information accessible to everyone, but it is there and everyone can see it if they wish to. And crucially, a national standardised system means the information is presented in a comparable form.

So, on balance, I just don't know. If all LAs had performed to a decent standard I would agree with you - but I live in one with a track record of decades of educational failure (not any more, happily - is that because it has less control over schools or because of the extra cash Labour put in? gawd knows)

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 14:09:32

Put it this way: in the LAs that did a good job, it is not an improvement that they have made almost all their staff redundant... so I damn well hope it is helping in the LAs that didn't do a good job, or those of us finding everything far worse than it used to be are suffering for no good reason!

tiredaftertwo Wed 13-Feb-13 14:10:10

Sorry, I took so long typing my (vast) post I missed your last two.

Do you have any evidence that the standard of advice provided by private providers is worse than under the previous system? Has there been any research?

This is an example of what I mean - both the main political parties are committed to greater private sector involvement in the provision of public services. That battle is lost.

I am bowing out now - I would like to discuss this but I do want a debate based on the facts. Saying the DfE doesn't care about the reality won't get us anywhere, IMO.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 14:11:34

ps you are still just talking about data, which the public and journalists are notorious at misinterpreting. People read all sorts of stupid things into figures - they want to create far more meaning from statistics than is remotely valid.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 14:14:39

tiredaftertwo - my opinion is based on personal experience. Frankly, it is like the Wild West out there and the strong tendency seems to be to hunt around for a private SIP who likes everything you are doing and not to use again anyone who is critical. That way, the headteacher finds it easier to ask for a pay rise and everyone looks good for 5 years, until the next OFSTED.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 14:27:40

tiredaftertwo - are you a governor in a school? If not, why not apply to become one and see how it operates in reality? You won't get the answers you seek any other way, and you will then at least be trying to make a difference, rather than sitting on the fence and hoping someone more informed will sort it out for you.

musicalfamily Wed 13-Feb-13 14:50:52

I think I am misunderstanding this, so maybe someone can clarify it for me.
If the academies are allowed to make a profit, does this mean they will be allowed to charge pupils? Or is the profit purely made on saving on services bought in?

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 15:14:23

I would have thought it would be possible to make a profit by selling your staff's services as trainers for other schools... sharing good practice, but for profit. Your HT could be paid to be a SIP for other schools. The temptation could then be to take good, profitable people out of the classroom or school more often than you might have done otherwise, because of the money you can make out of it. You could create a whole sub-industry in training and events management using your premises... loads of potential. I think I should become a school business manager! Sounds like fun.

prh47bridge Wed 13-Feb-13 16:02:09

rabbitstew - It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the changes. They are happening whatever my opinion. Since all three major parties are broadly in favour my views are irrelevant.

I think the evidence on academies is inconclusive. As I have commented elsewhere, there is evidence that the academies set up under the last government were effective at improving standards. However, those academies were significantly different to most of the ones being set up under this government - they all had sponsors and they all started out as failing schools, for example. It is therefore not clear that the experience will be repeated with the new academies.

There is also evidence from other countries that have adopted similar programmes but the two sides of the argument do not agree on what that evidence is, let alone whether or not it applies to what the government is doing.

musicalfamily - It is not clear if there is any intention to allow academies to make a profit. However, they are subject to the same rules on charging as LA-controlled schools, so most things are free. I cannot see that changing so any profits will be through being more efficient than LA-controlled schools.

rabbitstew Wed 13-Feb-13 16:57:44

Saving money is not profit making, it is money saving... therefore that is not how they will make any profit, if they are allowed to do so. Since I have already heard discussions take place about the potential for making a profit by charging out staff to provide advice to other schools, I think that is, as I already said above, one way schools might quite like to make some money...

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