Education: Sheffield primary schools are rushing to become academies out of fear

Year Five pupils Luke and Lacey, of Malin Bridge Primary School.
Year Five pupils Luke and Lacey, of Malin Bridge Primary School.

Meetings are taking place at several Sheffield primary schools to discuss their path towards academisation – and many are making the move for the wrong reasons.

While all the Sheffield secondary schools are either established academies or are well on their way to forming a Multi Academy Trust (MAT), the take up of academy status at primary school level has been much slower.

At the end of the year, it’s estimated that half the city’s primary schools will be on their way to being an academy, leaving the local authority control and receiving their funding directly.

What’s been strange to see this year – given that many teachers and heads are vehemently opposed to academisation – is the way some schools have rushed towards the process like kids being offered free candy.

Like many areas of education, the government guidance on education is as clear as mud.

There was a time when the education secretary wanted all schools – including primaries – to convert to academies by 2020. But when there was a revolt in Middle England and people started wondering where the money was coming from, this policy was dropped.

It was replaced by a vague notion that the government would like all schools to convert. There was no longer a requirement, but they would prefer it if you did convert to be an academy.

It was the school-yard equivalent of saying “Please become an academy, I’ll be your BFF and let you come to my party.”

What was going to be law, became a request.

There is clearly no evidence to show that being an academy leads to better results, improves welfare for our children, creates better value for money or improves teaching.

The sad truth of the matter is that many schools are making this decision for the wrong reason, a reason founded in fear.

There have been governor meetings and headteacher gatherings as recently as last week where people representing our city’s schools have spoken in favour of becoming an academy because they are scared of what might happen if they don’t convert.

They’re not making this decision because they’re excited about the prospect of joining an academy chain or because the results of the school will shoot up in the years following academisation.

They are choosing to become MATs because they’re concerned they might get forced to join one of the big academy trusts based in London that will inflict their corporate identity on them.

They’re worried that OFSTED might come, downgrade them and that the result will be an academy they cannot choose.

In short, they are choosing to jump before they are pushed.

There is no appetite from teachers or parents to support academisation. In a recent round of parental meetings in the north of the city to discuss the move, most parents couldn’t be bothered to turn up and take part.

Academisation is irrelevant to the majority of people in the country who just want their kids to be taught well and enjoy school.

Written responses that came in during a recent consultation process were hardly pro-academy.

Many parents wondered why the schools were making such a fuss and choosing to do this now.

The answer is that some spineless headteachers are looking after their own futures by trying to bunk down with other friendly schools in case they are picked off and singled out to join a remote MAT.

It may look appealing now, when there’s talk of potential savings and being in control of the curriculum. But wait until there’s teacher unrest about working conditions and public resentment about the CEO earning a six-figure salary.

For it will come.

Spare a thought for the headteachers burying their heads in the sand, making this decision while privately they don’t agree with academisation.

They will be judged by future generations.