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Academy schools

(42 Posts)
WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 09:30:31

So, apparently rather a lot of state schools have expressed their interest in becoming 'Academy' schools. My understanding is that if successful this would confer the ability to drive their own curriculum and set their own teachers' pay (I wish I could set my own pay...). Does anyone know if this also affects admissions? Will the opt-out from the LEA mean that we'll end up with a two-tier system within the state sector? And, eek, does it mean that headteachers and governors get to run 'their' schools in pretty much anyway they see fit confused. Does anyone know about all this? I've been searching all over the place for full info but can't seem to find any...

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 10:03:20

The new academies will generally operate under the same rules as existing academies.

For admissions, that means they will be able to set their own admissions criteria and will be their own admissions authority, just like existing faith schools. There are strict rules about admissions criteria so academies won't be able to do anything wildly out of line with current practise. They won't, for example, be allowed to prioritise children of donors or children of ex-pupils. Being their own admissions authority means they will be told which children have applied and the academy will be responsible for placing these children in order according to their criteria. As far as parents are concerned the system will remain the same - you apply to the LA stating your preferred schools. And equal preference will continue to apply - an academy can't prioritise those people naming it as first preference.

They won't have full freedom on the curriculum. They still have to follow the National Curriculum on the core subjects (English, Maths and Science) and they are required to offer a broad, balanced curriculum.

And yes, the governors of an academy have a lot of freedom to run their school the way they want without interference from the LA. Of course, if parents don't like the way an academy is being run the academy is likely to become unpopular. This will leave it with less money coming in. That is a powerful incentive to make sure the academy offers a programme that is attractive to parents and pupils.

RollaCoasta Thu 03-Jun-10 10:41:04

Have I understood it right that only outstanding schools can become academies?

And... that outstanding schools won't be Ofsteded (new verb of the day)?

If that's true, how are these schools going to be regulated? Is the assumption, once outstanding, always outstanding?

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 10:44:19

Thanks prh47bridge, that's really helpful. So I've had a look at the schools admission code as it currently stands and it's reassuring, I hope it's not dismantled by the new government.
I'm a bit worried though as I'm not sure that we have the freedom in this county to vote with our feel about a school. The idea that an academy that doesn't satisfy parents and students will end up with fewer bottoms on seats seems problematic to me. Surely there's a real risk that new academy schools may just end up with disgruntled parents with no real rights or choice of another school to go to ... I know that if I had to move a child between schools in my area I would probably have to move into the private sector or into home schooling (!) In other words, I'm not sure that market forces can and should apply to our state school system.

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 10:46:37

'feet' not 'feel'

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 10:47:09

No inspections shock

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 10:49:54

No, it isn't just outstanding schools. Any school can become an academy but outstanding schools are pre-approved, effectively fast tracking them.

The outstanding schools won't be subject to regular Ofsted inspections. However, they will be monitored and, if certain indicators go red, an inspection will be triggered. I don't know what these indicators will be. It will also be possible for parents to request an inspection if there are problems.

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 10:54:34

I agree that parents don't have the freedom to vote with their feet at the moment. The problem is that many areas have little or no surplus capacity and many LAs prevent successful schools from growing. The government intends to allow successful schools to grow (not force them to, but give them the freedom to do so if they want). They hope that this combined with the new schools which they are encouraging will result in genuine freedom of choice for parents.

This is the model which has proved popular and successful in Sweden. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not it will be popular and successful in England.

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 10:56:35

Thanks again, do you know where we can find detail of government policy and proposals on the monitoring system and process of parental request for an inspection?

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 10:57:32

I though Sweden was reversing a lot of its previous policies, saying that they had failed...

RollaCoasta Thu 03-Jun-10 10:57:34

I've just checked the selection process and it's outstanding schools that can be fast-tracked to academy status by Sept.

If outstanding schools aren't going to be inspected by Ofsted, then the only trigger for an inspection would be drop in results. Surely that detracts from the whole teaching and learning process, so 'crucial' in current Ofsted inspections?

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 11:09:35

WideAwakeMum - As far as I am aware Sweden is sticking with the free schools policy. I'm happy to be pointed at anything to the contrary. My information on government policiy comes from several places, predominantly the Department of Education website, the Conservatives manifesto (which is on their website) and the Spectator website - the editor of the Spectator is a fan of the education changes, describing them as the best reason for voting Conservative, so there are quite a few articles and blog entries about it there. Searching for articles by Michael Gove also provides some interesting information. Having said that, I haven't seen anything on the monitoring system and I'm not familiar with the process of parental request for an inspection.

RollaCoasta - They say they will be using a range of indicators, not just results, but I don't know what these indicators will be. It will also be possible for parents to request an inspection. Again, I don't know any details about this.

cory Thu 03-Jun-10 11:21:56

What worries me is not the admissions but the exclusions! Our catchment school, now an academy, expelled more pupils last year than all the other schools in town together!

So that's an easy way of dealing with children with SN or other problems: you don't have to overworry about provision as you can always chuck them out at the first sign of trouble.
<still seethes at the memory of all the work put into trying to get any information about disabled access out of the religious group that has taken over this school- totally hopeless and the LEA was not able to help as school now out of their control>

I think the Swedish comparison is a red herring. Sweden's educational results have gone downhill since the new system was introduced and my own feeling (from talking to Swedish friends and relatives) is that the main reason they haven't sunk further (as yet) is that many children still benefit from the good education they, and their parents, had under the old system.

Swedish academies (friskolor) are less accountable than English schools as there is no general external exam system: Swedish teachers set their own marks from continuous assessment. This worked under a regime where all schools were regularly inspected and made to keep to the same standards. If you give freedom to the schools, it will (and does, from what I hear) mean that marks lose their meaning: an A from an independent school doesn't have to have anything like the same content as an A from a state school- they are never measured against one another until the unfortunate student reaches university. This is why the friskolor have been very popular with some Swedish teens and their parents: they think they can get higher marks by learning less. It also puts a lot of pressure on state schools to lower their standards. It is not an attitude that is going to do the nation a lot of good in the long run. SO I hardly think you can compare or use the Swedish example in any constructive way. The only time it has been compared objectively to other systems is in international tests- and there Sweden is losing ground!

RollaCoasta Thu 03-Jun-10 11:25:57

Looks like the goalposts will change again. One of the crucial indicators at the moment is 'learning outcome', based on observation and talking to the children (plus results and book monitoring). I can't see how this will fit into random inspection.

Has anyone heard that LAs may be running some of the inspections?

I see that Sweden's school system also has separate schools for Hearing and sight impaired children and SEN/EBD children. (I have an idea this would work in a country with small but concentrated areas of dense population.) I wonder, therefore, if there are any SEN/disabled children in the free schools.

Builde Thu 03-Jun-10 11:26:11

My observation is that first the tories and then labour pretty much removed control from local authorities and replaced it with central government control.

It seems like a bit of spin by the tories (who need to remember that the LA is voted for!) I also thought that the tories wanted things to be more local.

As far as I can see (as a governor), the local authority it generally very helpful, whilst it is central government that imposed new rules/curricula/etc.

Also speaking as a governor; I really don't want to have to 'run' my dds school!

cory Thu 03-Jun-10 11:35:03

Swedish schools are not very inclusive, Rolla. Even children with mild SN who are in mainstream are educated in a separate classroom, often in a separate building. And there is definitely still a stigma in being in the Special Class; there was in my day and there still is.

My parents' neighbour's child who has mild Aspergers goes to an SN: everybody thinks this is a brilliant solution as it means she doesn't have to put up with the bullying at school- doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that there might be another way of dealing with the bullying problem hmm.

I have no idea what people do in rural areas: not all the population is clustered into dense areas.

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 11:42:26

RollaCoasta - I haven't heard anything about LAs inspecting academies but that doesn't mean you are wrong. I agree with Cory that I would be careful about going too far with the Swedish comparison. They were starting from a different place when they introduced free schools in 1992 and some of the details are significantly different from what is happening here.

Builde - The idea is that allowing the governors to run the school is more local than having it run by the LA. The primary belief is said to be giving power back to the people. The idea of these changes is said to be to take power away from LAs and give it to parents. Only time will tell whether or not it succeeds.

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 11:48:51

Oh lordy, now I'm really worried - high rates of exclusions, lowered standards, segregation for children with SEN...

prh47bridge, thanks for the info on where you get your info from - I'll certainly have a look at the Spectator, although I think the Conservative manifesto is really a pre-coalition document. My understanding is that Sweden's implemented/implementing more checks and balances on free schools as it 'slips down' the international league tables (see the BBC on this. I read the Economist and questions about the Swedish model have been raised there too)

WideAwakeMum Thu 03-Jun-10 11:59:38

I've found a useful site which gives the chance to comment on government plans for schools: programmeforgovernment.hmg.gov.uk/schools/

cory Thu 03-Jun-10 17:07:21

What academies meant to us what that our catchment school was taken away from the local authority and given to an international religious organisation to run: I hardly think that counts as making it more local. Parents, teachers and local businessmen tried to form their own group and bid for control over school but had no chance, as Tory council were determined to give control to sect in questio, one of their leading councillors having close ties with said religious sect- which as far as I know does not have any members in the actual area. Can't imagine a more efficient way of taking control away from local community really.

violetqueen Thu 03-Jun-10 17:40:39

If a school can become an Acdemy in September and thus their own admissions authority - will this allow enough time for the details to be made public .
And won't the incoming year 7 already have applied and accepted under the existing criteria ?

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jun-10 18:53:50

Those who have been offered places for September will not be affected. I can't absolutely confirm this but I suspect that the new academies will have to use their existing criteria for 2011 admissions as well, with any changes being introduced for 2012.

HeavyMetalGlamourRockStar Thu 03-Jun-10 19:26:41

Does anyone know if academies will be allowed to discriminate against pupils on the basis of their religion - resulting in more faith schools?

RollaCoasta Thu 03-Jun-10 19:28:55

But their application will have been made to a 'different' institution - i.e. the existing school, not the academy which is going to be allowed more autonomy and is an unknown quantity.

jackstarbright Thu 03-Jun-10 19:43:47

Prh47bridge - Can I ask what do you think/know about 'fair banding'? I understand that some academies use it.

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