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Academy chains and the new Stalinism

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This is a pretty shocking story about the Academy programme that I heard recently. It shows how policy making is as much a cyclical as an evolutionary process. A friend had met a head teacher at a dinner party. In fact, he was an ex head teacher, let’s call him ‘Andrew’.

Andrew had half resigned and half been sacked by the board who ran his Academy and a chain of others. The reason for the breakdown in relations was that Andrew was finding it impossible to do his job due to the constant interference by the Academy sponsor and the total lack of devolution by the sponsor's board. In fact, the centralised control exercised by the Academy sponsor far exceeds anything available to a local education authority.

I was so intrigued by this that I contacted someone I know who is on the governing body of another Academy in the same chain. What was his experience? This is what he said:

To be honest we aren’t really a governing body in the usual sense. We don’t have any decision making powers or devolved authority. Basically, at every meeting we write out a list of complaints and requests to the sponsor’s Board and then at the next meeting we are told that the list has been ignored. It’s completely pointless and rather uncomfortable as some of the parents are under the misapprehension that we are actually governing the school.'

So there we have it. Academies – which were supposed to be the final stage in the long process of liberating schools from the yoke of LEA control – have recreated a level of school subordination not seen since the introduction of Local Management of Schools in 1988.

As someone who was around when Academies policy was developed, I feel appropriately embarrassed. As chief executive of an organisation that sponsors an Academy I can promise that we will never resort to such a system of control.

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