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16 February 2007

Fears continue to grow over academy schools
A survey by Labour Research magazine has found that local authorities have serious concerns about academy schools' lack of accountability.

The government has announced that it wants one in 10 secondary schools to be a school academy, despite widespread unease about these institutions. To test whether these fears are justified, Labour Research used the Freedom of Information Act to question academy schools about how exactly they are run and also ran another survey asking local authorities if they had made any evaluation of the role of academies or an assessment of their prospects for the future.

Responses from the local authorities revealed deep concerns about the accountability of academy schools at local level, even among elected councillors in authorities already committed to the academy programme. Over half were unable to provide an evaluation or assessment of the academies' role or future prospects. Liverpool City Council said that it would be difficult for it to evaluate academies as they were outside its remit.

The research also revealed doubts and concerns about the sorts of sponsors that some councils have found themselves working with. This was exemplified by the announcement last year by the Department for Education and Skills that Bradford's Rhodesway School was to be closed and replaced by a third academy - in response, the council's Young People and Education Improvement Committee produced a highly critical assessment saying that the council's elected members had been “kept completely or partially in the dark”, and the critical choice of sponsor had been made by civil servants in London rather than local people. Disquiet about the role of religious organisations also came up several times in the survey results.

The responses from the academy schools showed the extent to which they are able to set their own rules. Some do not run parents' evenings, while others employ teachers on different contracts or refuse to recognise unions - one academy school allows only one parent onto its governing body.

Researcher Lewis Emery said the survey threw up many unanswered questions. “It is unclear why the government is so enthusiastic about the academy system when there are still so many doubts about how well they serve their communities, and it is of real concern that so many local authorities appear to be unable to assess or evaluate the academies' role,” he said. “We still don't know if academies provide the same level of parent and employee participation in governing boards or if they will co-operate with - or compete with - other local schools.”

Editor's notes

The full article appears in the February edition of Labour Research magazine and is also available for download as a PDF file.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Labour Research approached most of the existing and proposed academies last August and September, asking for information about their sponsors, governing bodies, curriculum, admissions, specialisms, policy on exclusions, trade union membership and staff terms and conditions. It also asked local authorities in those areas if they had made any evaluation of the role of academies or an assessment of their prospects for the future.

Labour Research is published by the Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded over 90 years ago. More than 1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.

For further information contact Lewis Emery on 020 7902 9807.

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