Debate intensifies over future of schools as bill progresses

Social care professionals have  largely taken a sceptical or hostile view of the government’s education reforms, set out in the Education and Inspections Bill published last week.

Some in the education sector  share their fears but there are also school professionals who are morepositive about the proposals.

Self-governing trust schools, which have control over their admissions  and assets, form a central part of the bill’s proposals. Educational charities, faith groups, parents, community groups and other not-forprofit providers will be able to set them up. The trusts will be able to  appoint the majority of the governing body.

Martin Johnson, head of education at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says this is the problem with the model as it means that there is a lack of accountability. He says that schools are able to gain all the  freedoms attached to trust schools by becoming a foundation school, without having a governing body with a single group in the majority, and argues most will choose to go down this route rather than become a trust.

“The government expects this  option [trust schools] to be very popular but it won’t be very popular unless the office of the schools commissioner [which will be set up to promote trust schools] strong-arms schools into taking it.”

Alongside trust schools, academies, which share the same freedoms and have a sponsor, are a key plank of the government’s reforms, with plans to increase the current 27 to 200 by 2010.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says that while  he is not against academies per se, the government is racing ahead with the model without having fully evaluated its worth or its effect on the education system.

“If the government is pushing on with opening more is it going to be sufficiently careful with who the sponsors are or are we going to find public funds going into the private obsessions of the sponsors?” he asks.

Accountability concerns
Ward argues that the governance of academies is “quite weak” in terms of public accountability, adding: “That gives us concern over the good use of public funds and the well-being of the people who work in and study in those academies.”

Johnson agrees: “At community schools we are responsible to the local authority for the way we spend our budget,” he says. “It’s unacceptable for those schools to be publicly funded but outside accountability.”

Despite the concerns from some quarters of the education sector, others welcome academies (see Why the academy is no bad thing).

The City of London, the local authority for the financial district of London, has sponsored an academy in neighbouring Southwark, specialising in business and enterprise.

Michael Snyder, chairman of the  authority’s policy and resources committee, says the City of London Academy is a success and that the council is looking to co-sponsor two other academies in nearby Hackney and Islington.

Forecasts suggest that the number of jobs in the City will increase by about 100,000 by 2026 and Snydersays the authority’s desire to help local children gain these jobs was the motivation behind the academy. “We wanted to give children growing up in the community the opportunity to work in the City through education,” he explains.

He dismisses the idea that sponsors can use their powers to spread their own beliefs, arguing that academies cannot significantly alter what is taught and must cover the national curriculum.

The authority’s role, says Snyder, is to give the academy direction rather than become involved in the education of children, which is leftup to the principal.

He explains that this involves the authority bringing its business acumen to the academy and providing links to city firms, enabling work experience placements and tailored classroom projects to take place.

It is uncertain whether trust schools will catch on once the bill becomes law, but with the drive for academies and the move away from community schools, it is clear the education landscape is set to change beyond recognition.


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