‘The problem with academies
By Chris Vince
Labour candidate for Great Parndon
I have always been a cynic of the programme to turn schools into academies. I understood the reason that the last Labour government introduced them and even recognise that some inner city schools did benefit from an injection of funds in the short term, although even then I remained sceptical. For me this was the start of what could be the privatisation of our schools.
This scepticism turned into alarm when David Cameron’s Tory Government, in coalition with the Lib Dems of course, did indeed very quickly see academies as a way to privatise our schools in a way even under Thatcher they never thought possible. I always think the program of turning all schools in to academies was a little like pyramid selling, with the first schools who made the change getting a pot of money from it and that pot slowly dwindling in time. That’s not even to mention the money that the Tories have wasted on their ‘free school’ program.
There are a number of issues with academies, not least the fact they don’t have to honour national pay and conditions if they don’t want to, but while out canvassing last year in Harlow I found another problem with academies. I suppose I was aware of this obvious issue in theory but I hadn’t actually come across in practise.
I was canvassing in an area Katherine’s and learnt from one resident that her nephew cannot go to school locally due to them not being in the catchment area of the local school. Curious I thought so I decided to delve a little deeper into the issue. When schools become academies and are separated from the LEAs they are free to choose their own catchment areas and this area, more by mistake than by design in this case I think, was just left out. Leaving me to wonder how many other areas of Harlow, what other areas of the country, face the same problem. It turns out that this is not an isolated case and discovered, after talking to a local Labour Councillor, that there was a similar issue with another student in the previous year that he was able to sort out. In this case the student’s older sibling had got into the local school but she had been sent elsewhere leaving the said student particularly apprehensive about her first day at secondary school, not to mention a parent who had a lot to juggle.
Now every child still needs a school place, and the LEAs still have responsibility for this, but with the local school in this case being very popular children from this particular estate are forced to go further afield. Some are even forced to take more than one bus, doing extraordinarily long journeys, just to get to school in the morning at only eleven years old. This isn’t right. The other issue of course is children could end up going to schools where they don’t know anyone at all; starting secondary school is a big step in some young people’s lives at the best of time.
Of course there is a potentially bigger social problem with academy’s choosing their own catchment areas. With more popular schools being able to pick and choose which students they accept, or at least which students get to the top of the list, there is a real danger that areas that are deprived, have high levels of pupil premium children, could be left. What with school’s being measured on how their PPG students do, schools could chose to use their flexibility of catchment areas to ensure that they have less of those students.
The next Labour Government will do what it can to ensure that we see an end to the piece meal education system the Tories have created where there is a potential for whole areas like this, and the children in them, to fall through the gaps. While the Tories have tried and failed to hide between their grammar school smoke screen Labour will create a truly national education service which benefits all our children not just the privileged few.
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