This week’s Guardian Education carries this interesting column:
An open debate about privatisation
A close look at the latest league tables shows academies are no better, and often worse, than maintained schools, says Fiona Millar
Knowledge is power, and the underlying data published by the Guardian last month offers the opportunity to make objective judgments based on hard facts rather than preconceived ideas.
Three headlines stick out. The first is the success of London schools. In spite of the continued demonisation of some metropolitan boroughs, children in the capital are more likely to make good progress than in many of the leafy shires.
Then there is the mediocre performance, especially of disadvantaged pupils, in the selective areas, at a time when tacit approval is being given for more selection.
Finally, the academy myth is well and truly busted by this data. In spite of all the political capital, funding, new buildings, glossy websites and fancy blazers, on close inspection their results overall appear no better, and in most cases are worse, than their maintained school counterparts.
On several of the government’s new measures, such as progress of children eligible for free school meals, they underperform when compared with maintained schools. The much-vaunted “faster than average” improvement of many leading chains looks rather hollow when you strip out the GCSE equivalent qualifications that ministers have now decreed second-rate.
The hypocrisy of the government’s position is now exposed. Schools are being cajoled and bullied out of the maintained sector based on a divisive and false prospectus, when the real English success story is the improvement, especially in deprived areas, of thousands of maintained schools.
But maybe this is all part of a more cunning plan. Cast your eye over the websites of any of the rightwing thinktanks, or any of the new edu-companies now flooding the market, and it doesn’t take long to work out that the new frontier is not really about the now bog-standard academy.
The holy grail is now “for profit” schools – even the former DfE permanent secretary has announced that he can’t see a real ideological reason not to let schools make a profit “where all other options have failed”. Establishing schools as independent is the first step along that path.
Why not have that debate out in the open now so we can discuss whether, if there is spare cash, it should be invested in children or siphoned into the pockets and bonuses of private sector companies?
Two weeks ago in this paper, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new head of Ofsted, wrote about what does matter in schools – interestingly he veered significantly off-script, pointing out that the vast majority of improving schools were not academies, simply schools with heads and staff focused on improvement, high expectations and no excuses.
He is right. These qualities are not the preserve of any one “type” of school. The government’s own data makes that perfectly clear. This information needs to be used as ruthlessly as it is misused because an alternative argument is crying out to be made.