In its latest budget the government has announced its plans to transform all schools into academies, aiming to bring all schools to academy status by 2022. There are currently 5,000 academies in England out of a total of 24,000 schools, with the majority of non-academy schools being primaries. While the government has always been clear on its plans to step up the academisation of schools, many are still surprised by the scale of the proposal and the sudden way in which academy status is to be imposed. While it has previously been a school’s decision whether or not become an academy, it is now no longer a question of if, but when.
Academies differ from other schools in that they are not under the control of local authorities and receive their funding directly from the government. Supporters claim that this reduces the bureaucratic burden on schools and allows greater autonomy in the way schools are managed, while detractors claim that it takes away the necessary democratic checks and balances that are in place to ensure schools are properly run. As to whether academies provide better results and better value for money, both sides are in disagreement, but a number of high-profile academy failures and the dubious nature of certain statistics have raised a lot of concerns. The Sutton Trust’s Chain Effects report on academy trusts in particular has been brought up as evidence that the academy system does not always work for certain segments of the population.
Nicky Morgan appeared adamant on the government’s decision to go ahead with the plan, but there has been vehement backlash from MPs, with members of both Labour and the Conservatives publicly decrying the move. The NUT has been similarly unhappy with the proposal, with Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney decrying it as a move that will “undo over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke” and claiming that “the drive towards academisation will do absolutely nothing to fix” underlying problems with funding, teacher shortages, and lack of school places.
In her address to the teachers’ union conference Nicky Morgan stated that “there is no reverse gear when it comes to our reforms,” and it seems unlikely that the government will change their plans when it comes to academisation. However, with the level of opposition the bill faces, it remains possible that some of the details will change and that the timeframe for the changes will become a little looser. In a year that has already seen a lot of controversy over educational reforms, this latest move threatens to deepen the rift between the government and teachers, with the neither the DfE nor the NUT willing to back down.