This isn’t about freedom, Mr Gove
July 30, 2010
Michael Gove has been given another kicking by the press after his Department published the list of schools that have applied to convert to Academy status. The basis of their argument is that he exaggerated the number of schools that were going to apply. It is true he did erroneously claim in the debate on the Queens’ Speech that “In less than one week, more than 1,100 schools have applied for academy freedoms”. What he meant was that they had registered an interest – by filling in a form on the DfE website. But this was a slip of the tongue and I forgive him.
However, I cannot excuse the more recent claims during the debate on the Academies Bill that education in this country is in such a dire state that emergency procedures were needed to push through the legislation and his claim on the Today programme that “hundreds of schools are anxious to take advantage of these freedoms”. There is simply no evidence for this at all.
I combed the list of 153 schools that have actually applied to convert and found that most have Foundation, Grammar, Vountary Aided or Vountary Controlled status (and sometimes these categories overlap). Only 62 are ordinary Community schools “controlled” by local authorities. The rest already have significant freedoms – they control their own admissions, employ their own staff and in most cases own their own land and buildings. They also have considerable control over the curriculum – and such freedom will, apparently, be made available to all schools when the Autumn Education Bill becomes law.
So why do these schools want to become Academies? Well, no surprise really – it’s the money. A quick look at what these schools have told parents (and not all of them have done so yet) shows that this is the main reason they cite. They have done the sums using the DfE’s Ready Reckoner and worked out that they will be given a substantial uplift in their income (not to mention £25K just for passing a resolution of the Governing Body).
Here is an edited quote from a Governing Body paper prepared by one Headteacher and accidentally released to parents in an email. It sums up the thinking rather well:
“In fact, most of the freedoms of Academy status are … equivalent to those of Foundation Status. There are, however, some key differences. The principal difference relates to funding. Foundation Schools are still local authority schools in a sense. Their funding comes via the Local Authority and is significantly top-sliced. It is estimated that for a school of 1200 pupils this top-slicing is normally £4-£600 000. A project mentor … advises us that we would expect our funding to increase by around £400 000 following a change to Academy Status.
One other aspect of funding is of particular note. [Mentor] informs us that following a resolution of the Governing Body of ‘intent to become an Academy’ the school will receive a one-off payment of £25k. This payment is not ring-fenced and is without DfE audit. This is provided to the school following the statement of intent duly recorded in the minutes of the governing body and forwarded to [Mentor] personally along with an expression of intent form duly completed by the Headteacher. It is given to the school regardless of whether it ultimately becomes an Academy or not.…
As the Headmaster I would like to ask Governors and the School as a whole to consider the following strategy: That we pass the resolution of ‘intent to become an Academy’. That we follow this up by completing the necessary expression of intent form. That we collect £25K for doing so. We have impending projects that would be enabled by this now.…
The principal gain, in my eyes, is financial…”
So, Mr Gove, it isn’t a revolution at all. It won’t make much difference to standards, except that a few already outstanding schools will have a bit more cash to spend on their high achieving pupils and the schools remaining in the control of impoverished local authorities will have reduced access to services that might help them improve.