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Why it is time for Labour to put an end to the academies programme once and for all

NEARLY 20 years since their controversial introduction by New Labour in the early noughties, academies continue to see scandal after scandal appear in both local and national media. 

As a former NUT school rep, Labour member and Socialist Educational Association deputy general secretary, I have always opposed academies, knowing like many on the left of the political spectrum that, once we started any kind of privatisation of our schools, there would be no looking back on full marketisation of the education sector. 

As it stands, around 70 per cent of secondary pupils and just over 24 per cent of primary pupils attend academies. Local authorities sadly no longer have the power to build new schools where needed and any new school built must be an academy with permission given by central government. 

Yet despite both the constant fiascos and evidence to show that the academy model doesn’t work, we live in an age where schools are passed around like commodities without the slightest bat of an eyelid.

One of the most shocking scandals to hit the mainstream news in the last year was the demise of the Wakefield City Academy Trust, along with its appalling financial shenanigans.  

The multi-academy trust stood accused of asset-stripping its schools after it transferred millions of pounds out of school funds and into its own account before announcing its closure. 

More recently the trust was found to have spent over £1 million in public-sector money laying off staff before the trust folded in September. 

This is just one in a long line of scandals that have ranged from financial irregularities, financial losses, dating agencies being run from school property not to mention one head teacher using school funds to pay for sex toys. 

This is even before we mention the shoddy treatment of staff and poor retention rates. It is beyond me how this can be justified as an acceptable model for education by anyone except those lining their pockets. 

Terms and titles like “CEO” do not belong in education, yet, with the ideological drive over the last eight years from the Tories to turn all schools into academies, such words have become a norm. 

And we can’t mention CEOs without mentioning their overinflated pay packets. 

While schools’ funds have been cut, affecting our most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils, and teacher pay remains stagnant, it is an absolute outrage that we are seeing millions in taxpayers’ money line the pocket of many academy bosses. 

One prime example is the head of the Harris Federation, Sir Dan Moynahan, who broke the £500,000 pay barrier earlier this year. 

If this wasn’t reason enough to be outraged about academies, research has shown time and time again that academy status bears very little impact on educational attainment. 

In July last year the Education Policy Institute in partnership with the London School of Economics published a study of the performance of converter academies, sponsored academies and MATs. 

Its overall finding was that “academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement” and that “there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and multi-academy trusts.”

While I understand Labour’s reluctance not to be seen to be “going backwards” by returning schools to the old local authority model, the current model cannot continue and a return to a form of democratic localised control free from market interests must prevail.

 

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