The government’s obsession with involving the private sector in the running of schools is set to plummet to new depths.
Tony Blair announced at the end of last year that he wanted to see a massive increase in the number of city academy schools from the current 46 to 400 by 2010.
Each city academy costs £25-30 million to open. Private sponsors invest up to £2 million in each school, while the government funds the rest. In return the private sponsors gain significant influence on how the schools are run.
There has been criticism of existing sponsors such as Christian car salesman Peter Vardy. But perhaps more worrying is the involvement of corporate giants like UBS and Toshiba in making decisions about our children’s education.
The government claims that academies are used to replace “failing” schools. However a recent report by the Telegraph newspaper found that out of the 68 schools due to close or merge and be replaced by academies, only six are classed as failing by Ofsted, the schools standards office. The majority are improving, good or even excellent.
One such school is Islington Green in north London. At its last Ofsted report in 2003 the school was found to be improving.
Last week the school was praised by the Mayor of London’s office for significant achievements over the past year.
At a ceremony in central London, unelected schools minister Lord Adonis, who supports the closure of Islington Green, unveiled a London Underground style map that had been altered to celebrate London schools that have performed particularly well. Islington Green School was among them.
Over the past three years the number of pupils achieving five A* to C grade GCSEs including English and maths at Islington Green has improved from 16 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2006. The number of pupils with five good passes in all subjects has improved from 28 percent in 2003 to 40 percent in 2006.
Yet on Thursday this week Islington council was set to make a final decision about closing Islington Green and transforming it into a city academy – because it is a “failing” school.
“How can Lord Adonis insist that Islington Green is so poor that it needs taking over by private managers as a city academy, and still unveil a map that indicates what an excellent school it is?” asked Nick Grant, Ealing secretary of the NUT teachers’ union.
While the government is busy throwing money into replacing good schools with city academies, those that have opened so far have achieved mixed results.
A report by management consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers last July found that the difference in standards between academies and the schools they replaced were “generally small”.
Former Labour minister Karen Buck added to the sense of failure surrounding many academies when she removed her son from the Paddington Academy in west London last month after just one term.
The school, which has cost the taxpayer £25 million, has a deficit of £900,000 – and the new building is yet to be completed.
Opposition to the closure of schools is growing. In Islington and Oldham, where the council is proposing to close or merge five schools, protests will see hundreds of teachers, parents and pupils take to the streets over the next few weeks.
Mac Andrassy is helping organise the protests in Oldham. “We have had two union meetings in the past week. They have both been really well attended with over 50 coming along to one,” he said. “The mood against the council is really strong.
“One teacher summed up the mood, saying, ‘This is not why I came into teaching. I want to work in the public sector’.”
No academy at Islington Green School
Lobby of Islington schools organisation committee, Thursday 18 January, 5.30pm. Meet outside Islington Town Hall, Upper Street, London N1.
Oldham anti-academies protest
Saturday 27 January, 11.30am, behind Oldham Civic Centre, West Street.