The appeal of academies has been sexed up

3rd June 2016 at 00:00

A teacher recently assured me that he had found internet dating a much more fruitful venture ever since his school had become an academy. Prior to conversion, there had scarcely been a flicker of online interest in this presumed “local authority loner”, yet within hours of becoming an academy teacher, his mobile scarcely stopped humming. Next year, he is getting married.

It would be easy to chalk this up as a mere coincidence. But I am not so sure. This is probably a hypothetical question for most readers, I know, but if you were to imagine embarking on a wild, post-exam fling this summer with another teacher, which of the two options would you prefer, all other things being equal: a lover from an academy or one working in a local authority school?

I know some out there will respond with a pious “It’s local authority for me, every time”, but no one is seriously going to believe them. It’s a noble (and rightful) gesture of support for the local authority structure, but they don’t really mean it. Sometimes one has to face up to the truth. A summer spent with a “local authority lover” doesn’t sound nearly stirring and escapist as one involving some intense, brooding flame who is currently working their magic within a well-ripped academy chain.

Too many local authority love stories have a slightly tired, melancholic ring to them. Too often, the couples involved seem to lack any market-driven style or imagination, almost as if they want to live inside a cliché. Far too many tales have accumulated over the decades of school cleaners discovering teachers together in some dusty old book cupboard. Too many stories of pupils spotting illicit lovers holding hands in the alcove of a seemingly distant country pub or sharing a meal deal at a Travelodge, supposedly safely “out of catchment”.

This local authority ineptitude goes back a long way. My father told the true and typically tragic tale of the married headteacher in a northern authority – decades back – whose affair was mercilessly exposed after he got his paperwork in a slight muddle. He accidentally posted one of his passionately poetic love letters to the county’s school dinners department and sent a purchase order to his lover, who was head at another school.

That kind of error can surely never happen in an academy chain, where people naturally become much smoother and slicker operators – learning to share excellent loving practice with each other. After all, many of the people running these academies are from the private sector. This welcome introduction of market forces is bound to raise the tone and quality of the relationship, driving up standards throughout the country. And surely we want the best for everybody?

The above is all ironic, of course, but as we have meandered through this daft flight of fancy, we have perhaps hit upon the real reason why our government fell in love with academies, and why it has shown such an unflinching resolve to bribe or bully all state schools into becoming one, regardless of any evidence.

The truth is that the campaign has got nothing to do with evidence or education at all, nor has it got anything to do with political dogma. As with so many other seemingly unexplained behaviours in life, it is really all down to sex.

“Academies” simply seem a sexier brand to politicians than “local authorities” – and that was probably enough for them to turn it into a blinkered mission with which to make their mark. For we currently live in a world where sexiness gives substance an indecent thrashing every time.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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