Academies: A highly questionable remedy for underachieving primary schools.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Michael Gove laid out plans for two hundred of England’s lowest achieving primary schools to be transformed into academies. This move will result in these schools being taken from local authority control and placed under the remit of more successful local schools.

The unparalleled scope of this overhaul means that the government needs to quickly identify potential sponsors for these new academies in order for them to be re-opened by the start of September 2012.

Labelling academies ‘a tried and tested way’ of ensuring the right head teacher is in place to augment a school’s performance, Education Secretary Gove stated that these changes would force underachieving schools to improve in key areas such as Maths and English.

However, the wisdom and logic behind this belief seems dubious. Once again, the fundamental question that has dogged the advent of academies can be posed – Do academies really guarantee improved standards in education? While, there have been successes in the academies programme, the answer to this question remains highly debatable.

Arguably, successes seen within the academies programme are attributable to the right commitments being made alongside serious time investment; what is clear is that the improvements were not a result of an arbitrary label being placed upon an underachieving institution. In brief, academies are not a remedy to all ills.

Therefore, in this case, perhaps Michal Gove and the Coalition government are guilty of oversimplifying what is required to improve standards in English schools. It seems notable that, the NUT (National Union of Teachers) suggested that Gove’s proposals were an ‘unacceptable experiment’ and charged Gove with displaying ‘breathtaking ignorance’.

Building upon this criticism, Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) said, “Closing and opening schools and finding sponsors for them on this scale will be a logistical nightmare. Once again, Michael Gove is making up policy on the hoof and leaving others to sort out the mess.”

So this raises the question- Is the government playing a dangerous game with state primary education? Worryingly, there is a serious lack of evidence that this move will improve standards in these schools and there is an identifiable risk of unfit private sponsors being selected in order to meet the 2012 deadline.

Noting this, Gove’s plan is certain to reshape the foundations of state primary education and in the process seems destined to take unnecessary risks in order to meet floor targets, which do not properly account for the quality of students in any sense other than academic.

In fact, an argument could be articulated that the government is increasingly shrugging its duty to provide education. Once again, highlighting the gap between the over interfering nature and reforming impulse of the British government regarding state education compared to the relative solidity of private education.

Of course, if successful these transformations will seem worthwhile however, there is an equally feasible possibility that students at these new academies could have their early educational years irreparably damaged by an unproven and untested experiment.

Kenneth Way.

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