Forced academy numbers triple at primary level over the last year

Richard Vaughan

More than 400 primary schools were forced to become academies in 2013 for failing to hit government exam targets, according to official figures released today.

The Department for Education (DfE) said that it had exceeded its expectations by converting 445 primaries into academies, bringing the total number of primary schools now being run as sponsored academies to 645.

The controversial move to transform primaries into academies was first mooted by education secretary Michael Gove in 2011, when he signalled his intention to convert around 700 schools with low exam results.

The first 200 were converted in 2012 having failed to reach the government’s benchmark in Key Stage 2 tests for five years or more.

Last year the number of primaries forced to become academies more than doubled as the DfE sought to crack down on what it saw as perennial underachievement.

A DfE spokesperson said bringing in an academy sponsor was “the best way to turn around the stubborn under-performance that exists in some schools”.

“These sponsors bring with them experience, strong leadership, know-how and a track record of success,” the spokesperson added.

It comes as part of a concerted effort by the government to transform more primary schools into academies in a bid to boost their numbers.

So far, more than half of secondary schools have chosen to convert to academy status, but just 10 per cent of primaries have opted to take the same route.

The policy of forced conversion has led to a number of high profile battles, such as Downhills Primary in north London and Roke Primary in Croydon, which both opposed the move. Both schools were eventually taken over by the Harris Federation.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, warned that academy status was not a “silver bullet” in tackling underperformance and was not suitable for every school.

“Academies work for some schools, but not for others and sponsors can be right for one school and not the other,” Mr Hobby said. “The government is putting blind faith into structural reforms to improve standards, but that is not the way to go about school improvement.”

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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