Implications of academies

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IT MIGHT be thought churlish to raise doubts about the merits of local schools obtaining ‘academy status’.

But County Times readers are asked what they think of this move, so at the risk of being the wicked fairy at the happy occasion of the inauguration of the Southwater Infant and Junior ‘academies’ (County Times July 7), it seems appropriate to raise some questions about the wider implications of this policy change.

As I understand the matter, the switch to academy status entails essentially legal, administrative and financial changes in the management of a particular school.

No longer will the local education authority (LEA), in the Horsham district that is West Sussex County Council, be the body responsible for the administration and financing of any school adopting academy status.

Instead this will become the duty of a central government quango - the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) - set up under the auspices of the central government’s Department for Education.

There is clearly much support in Southwater for the change to academy status. But how much of this support relates really to prospective financial advantages?

Will, for example, the expenditure per pupil in the two primary Southwater schools remain the same as in the remaining LEA schools? Or will the per capita cost per pupil be higher?

Michael Gove as Education Minister cancelled Labour’s £1bn Building Schools for the Future programme last summer as part of the coalition’s austerity cutbacks in public expenditure, but this May he agreed a £800m programme of building schemes for academies. The suspicion must be that academies will be better funded than the LEA schools.

If this is the case there are important implications: children attending LEA schools will be disadvantaged, at least financially, compared to children attending the new academies; and the more academies there are the more disadvantaged will be those pupils remaining in LEA financed schools.

If the new academies come to offer better opportunities because of their enhanced funding, it will be inevitable that they become selective in their intake either directly or by house purchase for example.

And what are the implications for the tax-paying public – County Times readers included!

The education service is the largest item of cost in local authority budgets.

But presumably, the cost of running the Southwater infant and junior schools will no longer need to be met by local council tax payers. So are we going to get a council tax refund, or at least a commensurate reduction in the next tax year?

In this era of transparency, could our elected representatives please explain to us voters the new financial arrangements for LEA schools vis-à-vis the new academies like the Southwater schools?

How much is to be spent per pupil in central government academies and how much in LEA run schools?

Will teacher salaries and pension payments be comparable within the two types of school? Will national taxes be raised to pay for the running of the academies – and for the new central government bureaucracy being developed to run them?

Local authorities have been the main providers of education for over a century. Current academy policy appears to be fragmenting any local coherence of educational provision and surreptitiously transferring local power and accountability to a remoter centralised bureaucracy.

That the Treasury can find the necessary funds to develop an additional administrative edifice in addition to an existing LEA structure, leads one to conclude that the Government can find the resources for its ideologically motivated policy experiments regardless of the cuts and restraints it imposes elsewhere.

The switch to academy status for the two Southwater primary schools appears a happy enough event. But I wonder if the policy this local event represents has really been fully examined for its wider implications.

It would be nice to have some answers to the kinds of questions raised above from those who are enthusiastically promoting these policies.

JOHN IVATTS

Greenfields Way, Horsham