Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Academy schools - unfit for purpose

In 2000, David Blunkett rolled out a new idea - Academy Schools. These were supposed to improve the lifetime chances of children in poorly-performing schools by replacing such schools with better Academy schools, so that all those pupils would receive a better education. Here's how the new initiative was reported at the time:
The academies will usually replace failing or under-achieving schools and their sponsors will be expected to have plans to improve the education of all the pupils displaced by the change....

...There will be no single blueprint for the academies, but the aim will be "to improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectations".
By 2016, the project has experienced more mission creep than the US military in the Vietnam War, with the current government committing itself to converting all schools - good, bad and indifferent - into academies for reasons which are supposedly pressing, but which nobody has yet clearly, or convincingly, explained.

Although the full scope and purpose of the Academies' expanded mission is unclear, we can safely assume that it still includes the thing academies were created to do - turn around failing schools.

Now something that calls itself "The Centre for High Performance"  (a  collaboration  between senior faculties at the Universities of Oxford and Kingston) has come up with some very helpful guidance on how to successfully accomplish the core mission of Academies, with a report entitled "How to turn around a failing school." The report suggests eight action points. Some of these consist of pointing out the bleeding obvious (apparently, failing schools could try to "Improve teaching capability" - no shit, Sherlock).

But the seriously interesting piece of advice is point four, which reads:
4. Student quality - exclude poor quality students, improve admissions and acquire a local primary school
To recap - an initiative which was introduced to help students stuck in failing schools, by replacing poor schools with better ones, now apparently exists to help poor schools improve their performance by excluding the sort of students the system was created to help in the first place. A system which was set up to promote inclusion is now supposed to operate by excluding pupils.

I said that this guidance is really helpful and I mean it. It is an extremely helpful piece of evidence for anybody arguing that the Academy schools project has not only failed in its own terms, but is doing the precise opposite of what it was set up to do and has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare straight out of Kafka, a vast, unaccountable machine, relentlessly grinding on in pursuit of its own obscure purposes, systematically chewing up and spitting out the unfortunate people it was ostensibly set up to serve.

As the person running the machine, it's Nicky Morgan's responsibility to hit the big red "stop" button when it starts malfunctioning this badly. Instead, she's yanking on the lever that makes it go faster. Negligence on this scale ought to be a resigning matter.


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