Tories admit primary academy scheme could torpedo their own phonics policy

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Reading system could be brushed aside as academies exercise their independence

The Conservatives' proposals for primary academies could lead to schools ignoring the phonics policy that the party has done so much to promote in recent years.

Last weekend, Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, announced that, should the party win the next general election, it would expand the academy programme to create thousands of academies in the primary sector.

However, the Tories admitted they would allow schools to avoid using phonics when teaching children how to learn to read, in order to maintain the total independence they guarantee they will afford to all academies.

The Conservatives' support for the phonics system, spearheaded primarily by Nick Gibb, the shadow schools minister, resulted in the Government ensuring the teaching method was compulsory in all primary schools. Mr Gibb's victory has been regularly trumpeted by the party.

A Tory spokesman told The TES: "The very nature of our reforms means that it would be optional for schools. It is bottom-up, not top-down, so if they do not want to teach it then it is up to them.

"However, they will still have to work with the same tests, but if they can prove they can pass our tests and teach children in two years by not using phonics, then that's fine."

According to the Conservatives, even if a school failed to pass the tests using an alternative to phonics, they would not intervene.

The spokesman added: "We know what works well and have the evidence to back that up. If a school is not using phonics and not succeeding, we will pass that information on to parents to allow them to put pressure on the school. It will be bottom-up pressure."

Meanwhile, the plan to create thousands of primary academies has been criticised by teaching unions and primary school heads.

The National Association of Head Teachers said that while it welcomed the focus on the primary sector, the notion of academies was "flawed". The association's general secretary Mick Brookes said: "The whole agenda tends towards isolation. We want to see schools working not in isolation, but working together. Academies often see schools placed in not-so-splendid isolation."

Mickey Kelly, headteacher at Redriff Primary School in south London and chair of the Southwark headteachers' executive, said he could see no benefit of primary schools becoming academies.

"All this will result in is survival of the fittest stuff, where the academies will be oversubscribed and the pupils unable to gain a place will be left for the local authority to find a place for them," Mr Kelly said.

"It will only be successful in creating a two-tier system. All it seems to be saying is that academies are good and local authorities are bad."

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