The great academy schools scandal

Kinsley Academy may officially be less than three years old, but its redbrick buildings stand as a reminder that there has been a primary school here, serving this rural, former mining community in West Yorkshire, for well over 100 years. Jade Garfitt didn’t hesitate to send her son, aged five, to the school: Kinsley born and bred, she felt she’d got an excellent education there herself. The Guardian reports

Kinsley is part of a wave of schools that have converted into academies – state-funded but independent of local authority control. In 2015, it left the auspices of Wakefield council to become Kinsley Academy, joining one of the hundreds of charitable companies the government calls “multi-academy trusts”, which between them run thousands of schools across England. This is a key plank of the government’s schools strategy under which high-performing schools in each trust help the struggling ones improve.

But in Kinsley, the reverse has happened. Lauded by Ofsted a few months before it joined the Wakefield City Academies Trust, Kinsley has seen standards plummet to well below the national average. “I’ve had to go to teachers to ask for homework. I’ve had to argue with them to change my son’s reading books. I’ve taught him all his times tables at home,” Sarah Jones, who has two children at the school, tells me.

“The collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust has sent shockwaves through our area,” says the local Labour MP Jon Trickett, who has for months been seeking answers from the government. “For many parents, it has been disturbing to find that their children’s futures could be threatened by the recklessness of people with very limited educational experience.”

Wakefield City is one in a series of high-profile failures of trusts forced to give up all their schools. The magazine Schools Week reported just last week that Bright Tribe, the trust with the lowest-performing secondary schools in the country, would also be closing and handing back its 10 schools.

Are these failures the inevitable consequence of a quasi-market system, predicated on the idea of takeovers? Or a sign of something deeply rotten at the heart of the government’s flagship education policy?

What’s gone wrong? “I think there was certainly a mistake in the early days of the coalition, where we let so many schools convert at once, and allowed some chains to build too fast and unsustainably,” Sam Freedman, a former special adviser to Gove says of his time at the DfE. According to the Commons public accounts committee, there were simply too few checks on schools wanting to become academies: the government rejected just 13 out of more than 2,000 applications in three years. Trusts haven’t had to prove themselves before taking on new schools in difficult straits: Wakefield City Academies Trust took over 14 schools in special measures in under three years. “There was a period after 2011 where the academy system felt like the wild west, with big personalities coming in and changing things with little educational justification,” says Professor Becky Francis, director of the Institute of Education at University College London.

Read the full article The great academy schools scandal

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