Education round-up 1 April 2012

Short one cos it's easter. Just a bit on the next logical steps for the academies agenda.

Submitted by Choccy on April 1, 2012

Stand-alone academies aren't enough - profit-making chains could be the norm

It seems the next step in the expansion of the academies and free-schools programme is now on the horizon. Not content with the wholesale butchering of public education, it becoming increasingly apparent that the push is now for schoools to not only become sponsored and controlled by private companies but to become part of academy chains. A recent example is to be found in Caistor Yarborough School in Lincolnshire.

A member of Hands Off Bournville School campaign summed up the logic succinctly:

"This academy was found to be a good school with outstanding features by Ofsted just 1 year ago. It converted to Academy status in August last year. Now as an academy it has been given notice to improve. What is happening here is the next logical step in Gove's plans for privatising education. Stand-alone converter academies will be taken over by the big chains like AET, Harris or Ark. These chains present as 'charities', but all have profit-making arms. The weapon is OFSTED's new framework - devised to ensure just about any school can be found to be 'not good enough'. No school is safe, but stand-alone academies are the easiest targets. (OFSTED is littered with academy-chain people & run by former director of Ark)"

So, being a stand-alone academy, with an individual sponsor is unlikely to keep them off your back, the big chains will come a knocking before you know it. What then? Well, profit-making comes in next, with news this week that the Barnfield Federation hopes to be the first in the UK to runs its chain of schools round Luton for profit.

It is apparent that chains like Harris (who took over Downhills Primary in Tottenham a few weeks ago when the entire community and staff were bullied into it) and ARK have profit on their minds.

"These chains present as ‘charities’ but they all have profit-making arms. Even without the go-ahead yet to run their schools for profit (this will be the next step), there are plenty of opportunities for these organisations to benefit from ‘efficiencies’ they make in their schools. Ark Academies for example, despite presenting itself as motivated by a purely altruistic interest in improving our children’s’ education – ‘an international charity whose purpose is to transform children’s lives’ – does not plough its considerable underspend back into education. "

What exactly does ARK do with its surplus?

"it invests the money in the investment funds managed by its parent company (Ark Academies was founded by hedge-fund managers). This article describes how it operates. Salient points for me include that in 2010 Ark Academies had an operational surplus of £1.8 million but spent £0 on staff development, and if Ark Academies goes into liquidation, the parent company’s liability is just £10."

The government will get away with this forced assimilation to academy chains by waving the new Ofsted framework about like a big stick. I've been hearing about this from managers for a while now, and I'm sure all education workers are hearing it. New Ofsted in September, as well as doing away with the 'satisfactory' label will also allow:
* early full re-inspections of schools that require improvement.
* a school can only be judged as ‘requires improvement’ on two consecutive inspections before it is deemed to require ‘special measures’

Downhills Primary was put into 'special measures' when workers, parents, and pupils fought the forced conversion. Slapping them into special measures meant the headteacher quit, the board of governors was sacked and replaced, and Harris Federation, the academy chain was given control of the school.

A few years ago many education workers didn't expect academies to be a big deal and had a sort of 'I'm alright Jack' attitude, since there were hardly any academies. But a few years on, with over 1,600 nationally, it's clear this is a huge issue. Likewise, the growth of not just isolated academies, but chains like Oasis, ARK, E-ACT, Harris and United Learning Trust, and the intentions to generate profit from education kids is next, for everyone, if Gove, Gibbs and Wilshaw get their way.