We were interested to read a report that Derbyshire County Council's cabinet member for education has criticised the government's school reform plans. Mike Longden said Education Secretary Michael Gove had been "naughty" by suggesting lots of schools want to become academies and that "free schools" would not empower typical parents.
Mr Longden was right to make the important distinction, sometimes overlooked or confused in the media, between schools simply searching for information on academy status and actually applying.
The Department for Education's Website points out that "it is important to note that registration of interest for further information should not be taken to imply that the school has made any decision or commitment to proceed with the process".
Voice's Council recently decided to change the union's policy to oppose the creation of any new academies. Voice continues to support its members wherever they work but has numerous concerns about academies, including:
- the "breakneck speed" with which the current Government is rushing ahead in allowing more schools to become academies;
- the way they have been promoted as some sort of panacea to magically transform education Voice has said many times that changing the way schools are organised and governed is not a guarantee of success or better education, and the mixed results from the academies established so far supports this;
- the creation of two-tier education system which damages the ability of local authorities to deliver central support services to maintained schools Voice is particularly concerned about the long-term provision of support to pupils with special needs and emotional and behavioural problems and those excluded from school, and how school transport and psychology, cultural and sports services will be affected; and
- pay and conditions at academies: levels of pay and methods of progression are variable compared to the maintained sector, the working day is often longer, and teaching assistants and other support staff may be particularly badly affected by the loss or erosion of any system of national pay and conditions.
Voice believes that families should have access to a good-quality local education system that guarantees a good school for all, and that all schools should receive the levels of investment they need to deliver that quality education.
Mr Longden also said he had difficulty with "free schools" as they would benefit a minority of powerful parents, rather than empower the majority.
Voice has said that a "buffet approach" to education provision risks causing chaos and confusion for parents, admissions policies, infrastructure planning, employers, staff recruitment and retention. Importing an idea from a country with a different education system and social attitudes and trying to make it fit here is a risky ideological experiment that could potentially damage children's education if it fails.
Free schools would need an injection of new money at a time when the government is cutting spending and create surplus places in existing schools, resulting in an even larger drain on stretched budgets.
Voice is also concerned about who will set up and run 'free' schools. Before and during the election campaign, the emphasis was on parents setting up 'free' schools. Since the election, that has changed to "groups". We are concerned about schools being set up by those who wish to promote a particular philosophy be that atheist, religious, creationist, political or financial. Providing high quality education may not be their priority.
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