Academies programme could bring big changes to education in South East

Michael Gove MP, Education Secretary Image copyright BBC elvis
Image caption Whither academies: to drive up standards or build on achievement?

Further to my blog on ethnicity in schools and the idea of twinning schools with new academies, I wanted to explore the issue further.

The issue of academies has been a contentious and confusing one.

The biggest confusion is how the schools programme being championed by the Education Secretary Michael Gove differs from that which was Tony Blair's big idea back in 2005, when he published a white paper which promised an educational market that would drive up standards by creating competition between schools.

School 'rocket boosters'

The academies programme grew under Labour and was directed mainly at improving the most challenging schools.

The coalition though wants to put "rocket boosters" under it.

The main difference between Labour and the coalition on academies is that Labour saw them as an opportunity to identify schools which needed improvement and significant capital investment, whereas the government sees them as schools which are already high achieving.

Of all the changes the coalition is introducing to schools, perhaps the biggest focus has been on Mr Gove's plans to raise standards in the worst performing schools by a dramatic expansion of the "academy".

Fast track

Michael Gove has written to every school asking them to apply to become academies.

He wants outstanding schools to be fast-tracked to academy status, which would give them more freedom to stand on their own.

Academies are publicly funded independent schools, free from local authority and national government control.

Other freedoms include setting their own pay and conditions for staff, freedoms concerning the delivery of the curriculum, and the ability to change the length of their terms and school days.

Academies sponsored

Speaking to head teachers at the National College for School Leadership, Mr Gove set out plans to raise standards and tackle under performing schools.

The plans mean a record number of under performing schools will become sponsored academies in 2011.

In Kent we know that Chantry Primary School, which was taken into special measures over a year ago will be twinned with Meopham, Community Academy from September 2011 - in a move that is aimed to raise standards.

Regional breakdown

It is just one example in Kent.

Obviously, as Kent County Council is the biggest local authority in this region it has, unsurprisingly the largest number of academies.

There are 14 of the old Blair-style academies and 31 of the new style academies.

In all 57 applications have been approved in Kent (15 primary schools, 41 secondary schools and one special school).

Medway has approval for 10 (nine secondaries and one primary).

East Sussex (one secondary).

West Sussex five in all (two secondary schools and three primaries).

Surrey 27 in total (20 secondary, six primary and one special school).

If all of those schools do convert to academies it will be a very big change to the way education is provided in the South East.

Schools system fractured?

There's been criticism of Mr Gove who has been accused of railroading his policies through without proper consultation, without listening to parents, to teachers or to local councillors.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Big changes could be on their way in education

Mr Gove has hit back at suggestions that his plans will fracture the schools system, set schools against each other and let down pupils in need.

But a recent survey suggested that only 8% of teachers believe government policy for free schools and academies in England will improve poor children's education.

It seems Mr Gove has some way to go to persuade teachers and parents that academies are the right way forward and won't lead to a two-tier schools system.

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