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Academies good, other schools bad

When they’re not running a bout of self-justification on why the latest writer has had no choice but to use private schools, you can count on the Evening Standard to run a puff piece vindicating the “trailblazing” Mr Gove for his agenda of private-sector involvement in state education.

Their latest offering does at least attempt to pay lip-service to balance, in a feature on what’s happened to old Downhills primary school, the centre of a row after the education secretary forced it to take up academy status, since it made the transition. Now chillingly called “Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane”, the Standard wonders if academy status is the golden ticket to success. They should be praised for raising the fact that other schools taken over by Tory multimillionare Lord Harris have actually seen a fall in their results.

Yet unfortunately, Alison Roberts’s article still shows all the usual signs of our media’s biased education commentary. She seems to be impressed by the “new phonics system”, school “principal… dressed sharply as a chief executive”, Roald Dahl and “joined-up handwriting” on display at the school.

I left our state education system two years ago for university. The primary school I attended featured both a “new phonics system” and Roald Dahl in heavy measure, neither of which were considered remarkable or invoked in favour of the school’s statutory status. Joined-up handwriting is lambasted in the current issue of Prospect magazine as an indictment of wrong priorities in our national education system. One can’t help speculating that a school “chief executive” at a non-academy would provoke broadsheet cries that education were being blunted at the behest of targets and league tables.

Alastair Campbell notes that coverage of state education is characterised by “myths and whining”. But it’s more than that – the exact same features in schools are dressed up completely differently, so that academies and private sector involvement can be praised, and local authority schools rubbished.

What is it about academies that renders standard practice, and even undesirable developments, as remarkable in our newspapers? Naming a “bog-standard comprehensive” after a money-throwing peer, indeed, might (rightly) be considered plain naff.

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