Benefits of academies are not proven

Professor Philip Woods chair in leadership and education management, School of Education, University of Aberdeen.

The proposals for introducing academies into Scottish education should be given a cautious response ("Let academies break the secondary mould," TESS, January 12).

The academies programme raises fundamental issues concerning who should influence the education of children during their formative years - in particular, the relative power of sponsors and democratic local government.

Research that I undertook with colleagues showed that business and faith organisations were the dominant sponsors in the first waves of academies.

It is crucial to consider if the sponsors who come forward are the most appropriate to shape the values of future generations. The danger is that academies weaken the local democratic forums that ought to be debating and shaping education.

Recently, the drive from the centre to create so many academies has resulted in public organisations becoming more involved. For example, in Manchester (above), the city council is leading a city-wide policy involving the creation of academies intended to work in clusters with other schools.

There are merits in this adaptation of the programme, although it has yet to be seen if it works in practice. And there is still a tendency to favour the needs of business over the broader aims of education.

Despite claims that academies in England have made much progress, in reality the experience has been mixed. There has not been time to generate evidence in the rush to create as many as possible.

More needs to be known about how academies change the curriculum, whether they have the claimed educational benefits, whether they are the best route to improvement in disadvantaged areas and whether they successfully work with local schools to spread any benefits or have a detrimental impact on their neighbouring schools.

Radical change is needed in education. But it would be wise to take careful stock of the lessons from England before embarking on the creation of academies.

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