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Academies steamrollered through

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The Academies Bill yesterday in the Commons was a particularly brash example of Govian arrogance – the unprecedentedly telescoped parliamentary proceedings for scrutiny of the Bill, the bypassing of constitutional and democratic processes (which on Radio 4 he dismissed as over-concern for processology), the lack of consultation, and the rolling-out nationwide of an inadequately tested and highly contentious system.

Not only that, serious unaswered questions remain about the funding of Academies, their expansion to primary and special and grammar schools, admissions policy (will banding arrangements introduce selection by the back door?), and the lack of due governance and adequate accountability.   To push ahead so precipitately with such an untried system where the limited results so far are at best highly ambivalent is a real abuse of power.   What results can be expected?

Under Labour, Academies at lease had the ostensible aim to replace ‘failing’ schools mainly in poorer areas.   Now Gove has told all schools judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted that they are pre-approved for Academy status, in which case why interfere with them?   Under the Tories Academies are being used to confer extra benefits on some of most socially exclusive schools in the country.

Analysis of schools judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted has found that they take 40% fewer poor pupils than the national average.   Some schools in the most deprived communities have as many as half of their pupils eligible for free meals.   Academies will be amplifying the success of the already successful schools at the expense of the rest since it will be very difficult for Government (even if it wished to) to enforce the admissions code without local authority checks.

Hitherto Academies had to be all-ability, but that will change drastically when the Bill allows grammar schools to become Academies.   They have very low levels of free school meals pupils, often 1-2%.   Whereas the whole principle of a New Labour Academy was that it was a comprehensive school, that is now about to be breached wholesale.   In the Tories’ new educational market we shall see exclusivity and selection return with a vengeance, taking the country back to the two-tier or multi-tier market-orientated system that generated such divisiveness and angst before it was abolished in the 1960s.

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