Legislation to turn every school in England into an academy will be unveiled in the budget on Wednesday, the Guardian reports today. Academies are exempt from parliamentary oversight and freed from local government control.
Critics warn that academies represent privatisation by stealth of the education system. One large academies chain, AET, previously ran into a firestorm when it announced plans to outsource non-teaching roles in a £400 million contract.
The proposal was dropped amid the outcry. But plans are being bandied about to outsource the marking of homework to cut costs. And struggling academy chain bosses have seen bailouts with public money and hefty golden handshakes.
Outgoing OFTED boss Sir Michael Wilshaw just last week hit out at the salary levels for the chief executives of “multi-academy trusts”.
The average pay of the chief executives in these seven trusts is higher than the Prime Minister’s salary, with one chief executive’s salary reaching £225k. This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards.
For example, at the end of August 2015, these seven trusts had total cash in the bank of £111 million. Furthermore, some of these trusts are spending money on expensive consultants or advisers to compensate for deficits in leadership. Put together, these seven trusts spent at least £8.5 million on education consultancy in 2014/15 alone.
The National Union of Teachers is not the only organisation worried (the NUT thinks the academies programme has resulted in the “fragmentation of the education system while undermining the local accountability of schools” and wants to return the oversight of all state funded schools to local authorities).
The government’s push to force more English schools to become academies would mean more and more resources devoted to administration, legal advice and contractual issues rather than education, UNISON has warned.
Academies and multi-academy trust chains are funded via separate agreements with the government. This means they are outside parliamentary scrutiny and the agreements can differ from school to school or chain to chain.
Academies are not currently required to provide extra places, making it increasingly difficult for local authorities in England to deal with changing demand for school places. This is the start of the privatisation of our school system.
As James Meek puts it in his “Private Island”:
[The government is] packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors… The commodity that makes water and power cables and [increasingly schools?] valuable to an investor is the peope who have no choice but to use them.
Being politically active is hard. It means spending an extra few hours of an already exhausting day doing drab things in dingy rooms with dry subject matter and often petty partners. But we have to start fighting back against a government that sees citizens as little more than human revenue stream.