Doubts over academies grow

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Most secondary staff now believe the Government's flagship scheme to raise standards in poor areas is doomed to fail. Graeme Paton reports

More than half of secondary teachers do not believe that academies will improve standards a survey by an education charity has found.

The poll of almost 500 classroom teachers and heads, by the Sutton Trust, showed that 53 per cent do not think that setting up academies, the independent state schools sponsored by private finance, will raise attainment in deprived areas.

This is an increase on the 37 per cent who doubted the success of the academies programme in the same poll last year.

The doubts over the value of academies, which have so far cost up to pound;32 million each, come as their numbers increase.

A further 60 per cent of teachers surveyed said recent government reforms, designed to give parents increased access to the best schools, would also fail to deliver.

But Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, this week accused teachers of being out of touch.

"I think this survey shows that a lot of teachers don't understand what this initiative is about," he said. "The academies opened so far are overwhelmingly popular with parents and the teachers working in them have been extremely pleased with the changes. It is time for people to stop moaning about them and start to appreciate the improvements they are making."

So far the Department for Education and Skills has opened 27 academies. It said a further 203 were at advanced or early stages of development.

Academies are also being used as a model for controversial plans in the recent education white paper to remove secondary schools from local council control and place them in the hands of independent trusts.

One Labour backbencher, Bill Etherington, attacked plans for two academies in his constituency. Mr Etherington, the MP for Sunderland North, said there was no evidence that schools backed by private investors would out-perform existing state secondaries.

According to the Sutton Trust poll, carried out a week after the publication of the white paper, only 26 per cent of teachers support the academies scheme, compared with 36 per cent in 2004.

Teachers also seriously doubted that the white paper would lead to greater school choice for parents, as the Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised.

Sixty per cent of teachers still do not think that school choice is a reality for most parents, a view backed by local councils and the Catholic church, which said recently that the reforms would benefit middle-class families most.

Almost half of teachers (48 per cent ) do not think that the present system of admissions - in which schools need only consider, but are not compelled to follow, the national admissions code - operates fairly. A further 58 per cent said that, even if parents had greater school choice, it would not help drive up standards.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The Government should be extremely concerned that secondary teachers, who are the foot soldiers implementing these reforms, have such huge reservations about them."

Barry Sherman, chairman of the House of Commons education select committee, said: "Teachers have to implement the proposals in the white paper and the Government should be concerned that the number against school choice and city academies, two key proposals, outnumber those in favour by a factor of two to one."

Unions are already among the strongest opponents of academies. The National Union of Teachers has held a series of local protests, claiming that they harm neighbouring comprehensives and place too much power in the hands of private sponsors.

Sir Cyril said he had held talks with the NUT to try to win support for the programme and aimed to meet other unions soon to discuss the development of academies.

A DfES spokesman said: "Academies are working. What matters are the facts not a small poll of opinions representing just 0.1 per cent of teachers.

Academies GCSE results are improving at three times the national average."

The Sutton Trust poll found that more than eight out of 10 teachers support reforms that would let students to apply to universities after they get their A-level results. Only 14 per cent said the existing system of offering places based on predicted grades should stay.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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