Highgate head attacks Michael Gove’s ‘forced academy’ policy

PUBLISHED: 13:23 30 January 2012

Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Education Secretary Michael Gove.

PA Archive/Press Association Images

A Highgate headteacher has attacked government plans to force struggling primary schools to become academies as “extremely unfair”.

Factbox: Primary school academies

* Academies are state funded schools which are outside of local authority control, giving them greater autonomy over their finances and curriculum.

* Under Micheal Gove’s new policy, primary schools where fewer than 60 per cent of pupils achieve the national average of a Level 4 in English and maths in their year six SATs exams could be forced to convert to academy status.

* The policy change comes as the government’s schools inspectorate Ofsted scraps the “satisfactory” rating for schools.

* Instead, schools of this standard will be graded “requires improvement” and no school will be allowed to stay in this category for more than three years – creating another potential for the government to intervene.

* Former minister for Higher Education and Tottenham MP David Lammy this week presented a petition signed by nearly 1,500 people to Parliament calling on Mr Gove to stop forcing primaries to adopt academy status.

Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last month that schools which fail to meet target grades for English and maths, including several primaries in Haringey, face being taken out of local authority control.

But William Dean, headteacher at Highgate Primary School in North Hill, Highgate, said the controversial shake-up penalises primaries with a socially mixed intake.

He said: “I am yet to be persuaded by the argument that academies will automatically lead to higher standards.

“I am personally very disappointed that pupil wellbeing and happiness is no longer of importance within the framework.

“Clearly happy children who enjoy their learning are much more likely to achieve well across the curriculum and in life.”

He added: “The fact that context is no longer a consideration when judging a school’s standards is of course a concern.

“I would argue strongly that an inner city school in challenging circumstances, where children achieve in line with national expectation, may well be better performing than one in the Home Counties with ‘outstanding’ results.”

Mr Gove has said that too many schools fail their students by not equipping them with the skills and grades they need to go into secondary schools.

He has also reportedly labelled teachers opposed to academies as “ideologues happy with failure”.

But Haringey teachers have hit back pointing to rules that see the borough attract outer London funding, despite the fact that Haringey faces the same high levels of social deprivation and poverty as better funded inner London boroughs.

Mr Dean said: “The one thing that would really help to raise standards further would be to have equal funding.

“When our budget was cut last year, it was things like one-to-one tuition that suffered.

“If Haringey schools received fair funding, standards would inevitably rise very quickly.”

Under the government’s new policy, schools are at risk of being converted into academies when less than 60 per cent of pupils achieve below the national average of Level 4 in English and maths in their year six SAT exams.

None of Camden’s primary schools have been singled out under the policy, but Camden National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch secretary Andrew Baisley said it was causing concern among teachers.

He said: “I am very worried about Gove’s policy. Academies centralise power at Westminster and that is one of my main concerns.

“If you have a problem you don’t go to the town hall you have to go to Westminster, which is very remote.”

But the Department for Education defended the policy.

A spokeswoman said: “We can’t just stand by and do nothing when schools are sub-standard year after year.

“Academies are proven to work. They have turned around dozens of struggling inner city secondary schools across London and are improving their results at twice the national average rate.

“We will offer sponsored academy status to schools we find to be consistently underperforming and whose results are below national standards.

“This is about rooting out under performance and driving up standards, so that students reach their academic potential.”

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