Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Academy Status Is 'Not a Panacea', Experts Warn: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Academy Status Is 'Not a Panacea', Experts Warn: News

Article excerpt

Report says ministers must focus on improvement, not conversion.

Granting academy freedoms to every school - a cornerstone of the government's education reform agenda - is not a "panacea for school improvement", a panel of high-profile experts has warned.

The conclusions of a major report, published yesterday, came just days after the publication of the coalition's midterm review, which pledged to step up the academies programme.

The independent Academies Commission, led by former Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert, has questioned the expansion of the programme in the absence of a coherent plan. While praising its "ambition", the report said the programme has focused too much on increasing the number of state independent schools and not enough on school improvement.

Ms Gilbert was joined on the commission by Chris Husbands, director of the University of London's Institute of Education, and Brett Wigdortz, chief executive of Teach First. They have spent the past seven months examining the academy landscape.

Since 2010, the Department for Education has overseen the conversion - both voluntary and enforced - of more than 2,600 schools to academy status.

But the commission, working on behalf of the RSA and the Pearson Think Tank, has called for clearer proposals, adding that a "determined focus on the detailed implementation of the academies programme" is necessary if it is to be effective.

Ms Gilbert told TES that the response to the academies policy had taken the government by surprise and that it was time for a more careful approach. "The focus has been on increasing numbers and if the focus is to be on increasing quality, we think there needs to be much more care taken about building in things that will support improvement," she said.

Too many schools that had converted since 2010 had become stand-alone academies, Ms Gilbert added, and were not fulfilling their commitment to support other schools to improve.

The commission's report also highlights concerns around academy sponsorship, calling for an end to the "beauty parade" of selecting sponsors, and recommending funding agreements be cut from seven to five years in length.

The proposal follows a National Audit Office report released at the end of last year, which found that almost half of all sponsored academies were judged to be "inadequate" or "satisfactory". …

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