Academies fear dilution of aims

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
Sponsors tell MPs new funding arrangements could make them `lapdog' of government agency

Government pressure on academy sponsors to deliver the best results means the controversial schools are increasingly opening in affluent areas where children are already doing well, sponsors for the programme have warned.

Giving evidence to the children, schools and families Commons committee, a group including representatives of sponsors such as Ark and the Harris Federation said ministerial ambivalence towards academies was diluting their original aim of tackling disadvantage.

New funding arrangements will lead to the state-funded independent schools becoming the "lapdogs" of the Government, they said.

Nick Weller, of the Independent Academies Association, told MPs the apparent "ambiguity" of ministerial opinion about the schools was unsettling for those involved.

"There is a feeling the academies movement is being led by those who don't believe in it - and that's coming from the top," Mr Weller said. "I don't think this will improve after the next election. If the Tories put pressure on every school to become an academy, it doesn't fit in with its original ethos."

Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation of South London Schools, said he was concerned that the interests of academies would be lost when funding and day-to-day control is passed to the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA), a move that is due imminently.

"We believe the YPLA exists to ensure compliance," Dr Moynihan said. "That will lead to academies becoming the lapdog of the YPLA and losing the very freedoms that enable them to improve."

Lucy Heller, managing director of Ark Schools, said she regretted the expansion of the academies programme. "It's not a place for private schools. You have to keep it sparse if you want to keep the original message," she said.

Dr Moynihan added that universities should not get involved either, saying that only the "dynamism" of business could inspire deprived children.

"Business has a can-do approach and a high level of expectation that is difficult to get from other sponsors, so they provide the best model for academies," he said.

"Lord Harris regularly visits staff and they find that inspiring."

Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said pressure on sponsors to make whole chains of academies successful meant needy communities were missing out.

"You're getting private schools becoming academies now just because people want their chain to look good," he said. "This often means they are not meeting the needs of the local area."

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