The schools census information for October 2018 showed that more pupils now study in academies than in maintained LEA schools (50.1% to 49.9%). Academies were first introduced under New Labour and are something the Conservatives expanded massively in the last decade.
Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.
In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.
There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.
NB – The Bright Tribe Trust also has the dubious honour of being the worst performing academy chain in England at key stage 4.
And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.
This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.
Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?
The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.
Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!
in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.
I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.