New kids settling in nicely

17th June 2005 at 01:00
The independent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on academies shows they are highly popular with parents and starting to raise the aspirations and achievement of thousands of pupils - albeit often from a low base - in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

Academies are overwhelmingly welcomed on a local level. Having met academy principals and visited many of the impressive institutions they run, I fully endorse the report's finding that there is "a significant difference in the learning culture in new academies, compared to their predecessors".

One academy I visited recently, Mossbourne in Hackney, is an entirely new school that opened in 2004. The quality education it provides is clearly recognised by parents; there have been 537 first- choice applications for the 180 Year 7 places available this September. In Sir Michael Wilshaw, Mossbourne has an outstanding principal, leading a dedicated teaching force who embrace the academy concept enthusiastically. I went away with a lasting impression that the school's strong ethos will benefit Hackney's young people for generations to come.

As PricewaterhouseCoopers rightly point out, the academies programme is still in its infancy. Raising standards will take time in schools which directly inherit previously failing schools. But some individual examples are particularly impressive. The King's academy in Middlesbrough - which inherited two very weak schools - more than doubled performance in key stage 3 maths and science tests in a year.

We will continue to improve the academy model in response to the evaluation by PricewaterhouseCoopers and others.

But I cannot stress too strongly that academies are only one part of our strategy for improving secondary education. Only a small proportion of schools will become academies. Every other secondary school is equally important - and every school will benefit from the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme to renovate the entire secondary school system over the next 15 years. We want excellent schools for all, not just for a few.

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