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Wednesday, 13 January 2010 18:14

Academies: KOS Jan 2010

Kent and Medway secondary schools have suffered from a historically low level of investment into school buildings. However, in recent years there has been a transformation of many premises to produce school buildings of which we can be proud, a tribute to the investment policies of Kent and Medway councils.


With programmes such as Private Finance Investment (6 schools) and Building Schools for the Future (10 schools underway), the pace of redevelopment is increasing in line with the target of replacing all Kent secondary schools in the next 12 years. These two initiatives rely heavily on private finance, which needs to make a profit, and so they face uncertain financial futures in terms of running costs. What happens at the end of the borrowing term? What about the current difficult financial climate?


However, as each new school flourishes, alongside it there is too often a school that is not so fortunate, often which has worked hard to achieve high standards, that then suffers by comparison. An unfair world, where many children benefit while others are at good schools that go into decline.


Academies are in a different programme and are the flavour of the day, bringing much-needed funds from government to build plush new premises, often on fresh sites. They also need to attract sponsors who often put up a small proportion of the total costs, and are independent of the local authority, controlled by the sponsors. Church and university sponsors no longer need to invest funds.


Increasingly local authorities are also minority sponsors. Between them, University of Kent at Canterbury, Christchurch University Canterbury, and the University of Creative Arts are minority sponsors of most local academies.


City academies were originally designed to replace failing schools in socially deprived urban areas, but the concept is changing fast and now even some prestigious independent schools, fallen on hard times are becoming academies in other parts of the country. Already the 17 open and planned Academies make up one in seven of all Kent and Medway schools. Academies do not need to follow the national curriculum, and all students at new Academies start off with free uniforms. So far there is no convincing evidence that they raise standards, although many often do well, some by attracting more able pupils. Others (not in Kent) have been spectacular failures.


I consider that Kent has generally used the concept well, attracting investment into the county and maintaining a level of influence that is lacking in some academies elsewhere. However, local authorities are required to have less than 20 per cent of the voting power on the board of governance of an academy.  Parents are not represented on all governing bodies but can have an influence through parent councils.


Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) statistics for permanent exclusions 2007/8 show the rate of permanent exclusion is twice as high for academies as in council-maintained schools. This confirms that one reason for academy ‘success’ may be their capacity to move ‘problem children’ out into other neighbouring schools - which suffer as a consequence.


I am starting to receive reports underlining one of the main drawbacks of city academies – lack of accountability. Parents unhappy with provision are finding it impossible to get satisfaction and the local authority does not have responsibility for the internal running of Academies. The Local Government Ombudsman has no role, as they do not come under the aegis of local authorities. The correct route is via the DFCS. As yet I have no experience of these, but have followed other education complaints through to the government and have found this to be generally a frustrating, drawn out and negative experience.


Parents who send their children to academies need to understand the risks, although for most it may well be the best option available and a very positive experience.

Last modified on Sunday, 22 April 2012 16:23

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