Andrew Adonis Guest Blog
When Labour Peer Andrew Adonis, then education minister, introduced academy schools in 2000, teachers and parents were some of their fiercest critics. Now, more than half the secondary schools in England are academies, or are seeking to become one. Here Lord Adonis explains why he thinks these schools can raise aspiration and achievement in some of our most deprived areas.
Lord Adonis is also joining us for a webchat today from noon until 1pm, where he'll answer your questions and discuss his latest book Education, Education, Education, Reforming England's Schools.
Mossbourne Academy in Hackney symbolises the transformation of education at its best.
The academy is on the site of Hackney Downs School in north-east London, dubbed the "worst school in England"when it was closed by inspectors in 1995. Virtually no students were getting decent GCSEs, behaviour was appalling, and there was a mass flight of parents.
Then, eight years ago, an entirely new academy arose from the ruins of Hackney Downs. Not just new buildings but a completely new type of school: an academy managed independently of the council with ambitious teachers, a sixth form, a uniform, sport and extracurricular activities, and, in Sir Michael Wilshaw, a no-nonsense headteacher who is now England's Chief Inspector of Schools.
Last year, nine in 10 of Mossbourne's 16-year-olds got five or more good GCSEs including English and maths, among the highest scores in the country. Of the sixth-form leavers, nine got places at Cambridge and another 60 at the Russell Group of top universities. All this in one of Britain's most deprived communities, with a non-selective intake.
In Hackney alone there are now five academies like Mossbourne and all 12 of the borough's secondary schools are performing well. Fifteen years ago Hackney's overall GCSE score was half the national average. Now it has reached the national average. "Hackney parents used to fight to get out of Hackney schools,"says a local MP. "Now they fight to get into them."
For Hackney read London at large. London has England's highest concentration of academies. It has the largest number of teachers from Teach First, the path-breaking scheme which this year recruited 1,000 top graduates to teach in challenging schools. It now also has the largest number of free schools open or under development, including schools like Peter Hyman's School21 in Newham, Ed Vainker's Reach Academy in Feltham, and Toby Young's West London Free School (WLFS) in Hammersmith, whose mission is not incremental change but a transformation in standards and expectations to match private schools.
This is the education revolution I describe in my new book Education, Education, Education. I tell the story of academies, which are driving improvement in state education, and I set out proposals for further reform to make England's schools truly world class.
I propose that all underperforming schools – primary as well as secondary – should become academies. Every successful state and private school, and every university, should sponsor an academy, taking full responsibility for the management of a failing school. This would hugely boost the number of successful academies. It would also help to bridge the Berlin Wall between state and private education and promote far stronger links between state schools and higher education.
Big reforms are also needed to make teaching the foremost profession in the country. At present there are only two applicants per teacher training place in England, so teaching is barely a selective profession. In the best education systems in the world, in Europe and Asia, there are more than ten applicants per post, and teaching is among the most desirable and prestigious professions. We need to match them and fast.
To make this happen I propose that only the best universities and schools should in future train teachers, instead of the present situation where nearly 90 universities train teachers and thousands of schools, many of them mediocre, undertake teacher training. I also propose much higher starting salaries for teachers of maths and science, which are the toughest subjects in which to recruit good graduates. I also suggest a huge expansion of Teach First, so that it recruits 5,000 of the brightest and best graduates each year.
It is vital also to promote technical education in radically new ways, so that teenagers who don't go on to university get the opportunities and respect they deserve. I propose a new "Tech Bacc"for 16 to 18 year olds which includes essential literacy and numeracy skills, a reputable technical qualification like a BTEC National, together with substantial work experience and community service. This reform – equipping young people with the technical and social skills needed to get into apprenticeships and jobs – is far more important than Michael Gove's new EBacc, which is little more than a reinvention of GCSEs but without modules.
We also need a big boost to the number and quality of youth apprentices. The Government should take the lead. At present there are virtually no apprentices in Whitehall or much of the public sector. They should be recruiting apprentices alongside graduates, as do the best private companies.
Every child needs a decent education, every teenager who works hard should have good opportunities, and no parent should have to worry that the schools in their area are failing their children. Parents and students have a right to expect that the government – and the political parties – will achieve this, and my book sets out a plan to get there.
Mumsnetter's can get Andrew's book Education, Education, Education for the special price of £7.99. Simply visit www.bitebackpublishing.com and enter the promotional code mumsneteducation in the box on the bottom right of the page. If you'd like a signed copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org!