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'I'd Consider Leaving the Profession': Teachers Talk About Every School Becoming an Academy

Is this a sneaky way for the government to privatise our childhoods?
March 17, 2016, 12:31pm

George Osborne getting bullied by school children earlier today.

Ah, school. The best days of your life, they say. Drawing dicks all over your maths book. Pantsing people in PE. Digging out and eating the Wotsits flavour-powder that had been trapped under your mucky fingers since break time for a pre-lunch snack.

Savour the warm memories of those halcyon days and count yourself lucky that you're not just about to start school, because in his budget yesterday George Osborne announced legislative changes to turn every state-run school into an academy. Independent of the local authorities, academies can top up their central government funding via private money – a model that has drawn criticism for a number of reasons, including the fact school hours can be longer, teachers can be paid less and academies can end up being run more like outright businesses than places of education, sponsored by greedy corporations and Bible bashers.

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We spoke to some people currently involved in the UK school system (mostly teachers) to get their initial reactions to the government's plans.

FRANCIS, TEACHER AND TEACHER TRAINER, EAST LONDON

I think it's a gigantic waste of money; it doesn't make a difference what type of school you are to the quality of your education. The way academies are run is quite different to local-authority schools, but I don't think it's going to make an enormous difference.

Also, maintained schools [state schools run by local authorities] are protected to a degree, with national teachers' pay and conditions, but an academy can practically set any pay and conditions they want for its teachers. I know quite a few other teachers currently in academies, and they're expected to work longer hours for less pay. I think they're treated a lot worse.

In these academy chains it's a very corporate atmosphere. I think the CEOs are paid very highly, and the underlings get relatively little out of it. It might not even necessarily matter if you have a less-well managed school; as long as you've got good teachers in the classroom you're going to get a good education for the kids.

I believe – and others would argue – that this is really just privatisation.

HENRY STEWART, CHAIR OF GOVERNORS, SOUTH LONDON PRIMARIES AND SECONDARIES

I think it's a tragedy. I think we have all sorts of local authorities with decades of experience supporting local schools, and that's just going to be thrown away.

There's no evidence that converting schools into academies improves results. In fact, in my analysis, the evidence indicates they have worse results than similar schools. When a school becomes independent, it is like it becomes a private company. There are heads of academy trusts who pay themselves more than the Prime Minister.

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I think [the government] has no conception of the chaos it's unleashing. I also think it will be disruptive. When schools become academies, improvement gets put on hold for a year or two – it's a huge change.

I think the government should have looked at what works. For example: looking at the things that have made London's schools improve. I think there should be a focus on training and development of teachers, making them feel motivated and valued. Basically, a focus on creating happy schools.

KEN, MATHS AND ECONOMICS TEACHER, KENT

As long as there are collaborations between an "Outstanding" academy and an "Inadequate" academy, for example, then it might possibly work, but there could be problems with the two schools' cultural and directional differences.

Longer school days will just add unnecessary stress and pressure on teaching and non-teaching staff, a school's resources and the students themselves. Having said that, it could work as long as the extra hours are not all dedicated to teaching, but rather extra-curricular work, and if there is a certain leeway in the expectation that teachers fill these extra hours, as our workload is already humongous.

JAMES, PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER, SOUTHWARK

It's terrible. It's fine if some schools need to turn to academies to improve them – although I disagree with this – but it's ridiculous to take away people's choice to fit the government's ideology.

There is no evidence they work, but there is evidence to suggest that state-run schools are successful. Also, lots of scandals come from the academies where there is no central control – heads and executives paying themselves loads of money and that sort of thing.

If they manage to get this through I'd probably think about leaving the profession.

Aside from that, this change will quickly turn what needs to be a collaborative market into a competitive one, which won't help everyone – only a select few. At the moment good practice gets shared among schools, but once you make all schools academies this will end. Also, if schools can offer different wages they will be able to attract the best teachers, leaving other schools behind.

It seems a bit much that 24 hours after it was announced that British teenagers are some of the most miserable in the world, it's announced they need to spend more time at school! The whole thing makes me feel pretty disheartened. If they manage to get this through I'd probably think about leaving the profession.

LINDA HARDMAN, EX-GOVERNOR OF A SCHOOL THAT ALREADY CONVERTED INTO AN ACADEMY, NORTH-WEST LONDON

Until very recently I was deputy Chair of Governors at Gateway Primary Academy in north Westminster. The school voluntarily became an academy in 2013. It is very large for a primary school, with over 700 pupils and more than 90 percent with English as their second language. The school became an academy to gain more control over its budget and the curriculum, although it still has to comply with many aspects of the national curriculum. The finance now comes directly from the DfE, except for the special needs allocation, which comes via the Local Authority, Westminster.

One of the other reasons for opting to become an academy was the lack of adequate support from the local authority, which, like many others since 2010, was suffering major reductions in funding and had cut back on many support services. Gateway can now allocate its money directly to its own needs and tailor the way it teaches to the special needs of its pupils. However, I think this only works because Gateway is a big school, almost as large as some secondaries, and therefore has scope within its larger budget. The more usual-sized primary of one-form entry would not be able to finance a move to being an independent academy and would probably have to join one of the large academy chains or trusts. These are mostly run by private sponsorship with money direct from the DfE.

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There are still very many excellent schools under direct control of local authorities, with excellent support from specialist staff employed by councils. The government seems to have a problem with local councils and would prefer that they did not exist, hence this announcement to force all schools to remove themselves from local authority control. It could be seen as yet another move towards privatisation of essential services and an undermining of local democracy.

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