Thursday, 28 April 2016

Dear Dame Angela, about those Academies...

My letter to MP Dame Angela Watkinson

Dear Dame Angela,

Thank you very much for your response to my letter expressing concerns about the proposed academisation of schools, however there are many things about this that have left me still confused.  To begin with, your suggestion that the results of academisation "speak for themselves" suggests an assumption that there is clear evidence that academics benefit pupils and parents.  You even provide some statistics which seems intended to demonstrate this.

I am sorry, but this seems rather extraordinary when even independent studies conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research conclude that "research doesn't tell us about the long-term effects on performance of becoming an academy", and Ofsted's report on the overall effectiveness for all schools in England  (31st August, 2015) showed no significant changes or impact.

Furthermore, there are deeply concerning issues about the statistics and statements you use.  Here are just 4 of them:

1)  You refer to converter academies performing 7.5% better than other schools, but fail to recognise that these schools were already on performing above average before conversion.  Their academy status cannot be singled out as the cause of their high performance.

2)  Similarly, you refer to data which suggests that failing schools which have been turned into academies have improved their results.  However, research conducted by the Centre for High Performance examined just such schools, and found that 160 of them achieved better results through changes to admissions systems which enabled them to exclude "poor quality students".  While the government has said it will ask academies not to exclude such students, there is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that they will retain the power to enforce this.  Students excluded by academies are likely to then be passed on to the underfunded remnants of education in Local Authorities - which sounds suspiciously like falling on 'the Parish', and effectively creating a new social underclass of children who have been denied fair and equal access to education.

3)  You refer to the government's rooting out of "failure and complacency", and while there has been considerable rhetoric of this type there is still no clearly-established mechanism for dealing with failing academy chains like AET, E-Act, Wakefield City Academies, Oasis, CfBT, The Education Fellowship and School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA), or when evidence of financial corruption emerges like this of Perry Beeches, or the use of off-shore accounts by ARK.

4)  You refer to the power of head teachers to set pay for teaching staff as though this is a positive thing: Implying an increase in salaries in order to retain good staff.  However, given that academies are not required to recruit qualified teachers, is there not an equal (if not greater) probability that head teachers will use this to recruit unqualified teachers at a cheaper rate?  Doing so would lead to an educational system based not on an effective educational experience, but on a single-minded focus on a test-regime (which requires little pedagogic skill to teach), with schools being evaluated on test results which have little direct relation to the educational development of the children.  Indeed, the test regime is one which seems to serve only to provide data analytics, and in all over ways impoverishes the educational experience of children.  Indeed, educational leadership experts like James Popham have demonstrated in some detail how such tests bear little relation to educational performance.

Overall, my real concern here is this: The statistics and rhetoric used to justify academisation in terms of educational experience simply do not add up.  Given the scale of such a policy I can only conclude that its motivations are, therefore, to do with something else - something clearly less positive.

I have two daughters in this educational system, and you ask me if I have concern about their school.  Whether I do or I don't, this is a policy issue that affects the whole country, and my concerns are for those who - as so often - will end up getting the short straw of policy that does not seem designed to do them any favours at all.