The government’s academies policy – schools that are state-funded but legally independent – has proved increasingly contentious since the principle of voluntary transfer to academy status within a mixed economy of maintained schools and academies was replaced first by pressure and then by the threat of compulsion, ostensibly on the grounds of school improvement.
In March 2016 the government announced that it would require all schools to become academies regardless of the quality of their provision or of the wishes of their governing bodies, teachers or pupils’ parents. The announcement sent shock waves through England’s primary school sector, where fewer than 19 percent of schools are academies.
Just two months later, in response to widespread objections from Conservative MPs and Conservative-led councils among others, the government withdrew the threat of compulsion except for underperforming local authorities, while holding to its aim of the eventual academisation of the system as a whole. Meanwhile, the government’s claim that academisation would guarantee school and system improvement was challenged on evidential grounds by researchers, the schools inspectorate and the House of Commons Education Committee.
In this new report, specially commissioned by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust as one of a series extending and updating the work of the Cambridge Primary Review, Warwick Mansell provides the historical background to the government’s academies drive before reviewing a wide array of published evidence in order to examine the new models of school organisation and test the government’s claims that academy status produces professional autonomy and educational improvement. He concludes that the model is intrinsically problematic and that the educational case for systemic change of this kind and on this scale has not been made.
Given that the government’s reform intention remains intact notwithstanding its modification of the academies policy in May 2016, this evidence review is timely and important.
Notes for editors
The report: Mansell, W. (2016), Academies: autonomy, accountability, quality and evidence (CPRT Research Survey 9). York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust. ISBN 978-0-9931032-9-2
Warwick Mansell is a freelance educational journalist and author of the much- praised book Education by Numbers: the tyranny of testing (Methuen, 2007).
The Cambridge Primary Review Trust is a not-for-profit company led by Professor Robin Alexander and based at the University of York. It is dedicated to building on the work of the Cambridge Primary Review, the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education since the 1960s. Further information on the Trust, the Review and other reports in this series: www.cprtrust.org.uk
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