20th March 2015, 12:00am




Academy `freedoms' come at great expense

Academy principals want assurances from political parties that their hard-won "autonomy" will not be watered down ("Don't clip our wings, say academy heads", News, 13 March). Unfortunately, assurances made just before an election are not worth much.

Parliament has placed almost complete control of academies in the hands of the secretary of state, but both main political parties accept that thousands of academy contracts cannot be managed efficiently from some central organisation. The Conservative plan to create thousands more academies from "coasting" schools may seem odd in these circumstances. But it is predictable that, within a year or so, a Conservative government would be seeking tenders from privately run agencies to manage, for a substantial administration fee, whole barrowfuls of contracts with "coasting" and other academies.

Labour would prefer to pass unmanageable academy contracts to agencies, regional or local, with a whiff of democracy about them. But, after nearly five years in which to work this out, the party is not sure how to do that. Academy principals are therefore between the devil of a Labour administration, still dithering, and the deep blue sea of a Conservative one that knows exactly what it intends to do but has no intention of telling anyone yet. Where do academy principals think safety lies?

Sir Peter Newsam

Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

Surely it was only a matter of time before academy "freedoms" and lavish budgets were reined in, since all publicly funded organisations need to be held to account by democratic bodies.

In time, the regional school commissioners will behave as local authorities used to, but they will be too small to properly monitor and support academies. It's a shame that academy headteachers fled local authorities, which could have evolved into what they will eventually become - highly effective developmental partners for the majority of schools. Hundreds of academies might then be clamouring to return to the fold.

Dominic Cragoe

Headteacher, Sheringham Community Primary, Norfolk

Hasn't the academies programme been a success? Senior leaders are more aloof than ever. They work from home, whereas teachers can't be trusted to do their jobs outside the school gates. Leaders have fancy new computers and smartphones, whereas classroom teachers can't replace broken chairs.

Constant monitoring and micromanagement has taken time away from marking and planning, and teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of being the next target in a punitive performance management system. Tired teachers are expected to work longer and harder than ever before, but at least they can be fired so much more easily now. Well done, Michael Gove!

Name and address supplied

Ditch `inclusion' dogma and do what's right

I've never read such a perfectly expressed article on how the parents of children with disabilities know best which school their child will be happy at and where they will thrive ("The inclusion illusion", Feature, 13 March).

Although mainstream schools have children's interests at heart, the best special schools are skilled at promoting welfare and progress in ways not often seen in other settings. Children become more confident, independent and empowered precisely because that is the school's sole focus.

These schools are places of high expectations just as much as mainstream institutions, and have just as strong a drive towards inclusion. Forget the dogma and do what's best for the child, whatever the setting.

M Riley

Retired mainstream and special school teacher, Lancashire

How to reignite the West's love of learning

I read with real pleasure the comment piece by Lenny Henry (" `The West is so lucky to have opportunities' ", 13 March). I'm always moved by the grit and determination of children in appalling circumstances to strive for an education, in contrast to the many bored and listless pupils in our own system.

I recall a colleague whose main aim was to get children "skipping to school"; he was thwarted by the system of assessment and the pressure to get results. We need to re-establish a love of learning to match that of people in far worse circumstances than our own. Well done to the team at Comic Relief. Who knows, we might get that grit and determination back here, too.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher

Speculate to accumulate science skills

I was interested to read comments by the head of the CBI, John Cridland ("Science is being ignored in primaries, half of teachers say", bit.lyScienceIgnored). In 2012, the CBI made a short film about our local primary school. They had heard about our scheme, Lab 13, where scientific exploration in the primary is supervised by a scientist in residence. This is having a transformative effect on the school and doing all the things the CBI and businesses are asking for.

Yet we need funding to keep the scheme going and no one - the CBI included - wants to help. As far as we can see, businesses want everything on their terms and will not listen to the experts: the schools. So when Mr Cridland says, "How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don't deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age?", I want to ask him who exactly he means by "we".

Professor Andrea Sella

University College London

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