ACADEMIES-HOW ARE THEY USING THEIR AUTONOMY?
Academies are supposed to be using their autonomy to deliver innovative approaches to improving the teaching and learning environment. So what about Personalised Learning?
The Department for Education does not in fact collect institution level data on curricula or learning plans. However, the fact that Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum means that they have maximum possible freedom to personalise learning for their pupils. An independent evaluation of the Academies programme by Price Waterhouse Coopers assessed curriculum innovation in Academies. The evaluators explained that “the purpose of giving Academies greater freedom on curriculum matters was to allow them to offer more personalised support to pupils and localities, in both cases often with long histories of underachievement.” The evaluators found that “the curriculum in Academies is seen by teachers as more flexible and innovative than in the maintained sector.” A recent National Audit Office report on Academies also observed “innovative curricular activities” in Academies including extended teaching hours, provision of a more flexible curriculum and in the use of ICT. The National Audit Office also found that Academies were proactively using vocationally based curricula, particularly for lower-attaining pupils, to help engage pupils and provide a route to successful learning. Here are some specific examples of personalised learning in Academies:-
• At Barnfield West Academy in Luton, the focus has been on a personalised curriculum experience for each student through a large number of pathways. In 2010, Ofsted recognised all aspects of the curriculum as outstanding.
• Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith meets the needs of students who arrive with low literacy by suspending parts of the curriculum to allow them to concentrate on the basics in English and maths, getting up to the correct standard before moving onto a broader curriculum.
• Wakefield City Academy has been able to focus on the core subjects and also personalise the curriculum to meet the individual needs of pupils. For example, enabling pupils to do three sciences at GCSE.
• At the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation of Academies in London, separate sciences are embraced, Latin is available to A-level and Mandarin is embedded in the curriculum.
• Barnby Road Academy Primary and Nursery school have been able to increase their “One to One” intervention provision for Maths at year six. In the Key Stage 2 tests that followed this intervention, 100% of the pupils that entered the tests made two levels progress or more, the first time the school had achieved this rate of pupil progress.
There is, of course, some dispute over what personalised learning actually means and if you ask teachers they will come up with different explanations. But there seems to be a degree of consensus that pupils don’t all learn in the same way and can benefit from different innovative approaches to teaching and learning , whether its through the use of technology, working as part of a team, more targeted individualised support on weak subjects and so on. The theory is that if you give schools more freedom they will use it to develop more personalised education and Academies and Free schools could become incubators for new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning, an idea endorsed by David Cameron recently who wrote ‘I want them (Free schools) to be the shock troops of innovation in our education system’.
“Academies Evaluation – Fifth Annual Report”. Price Waterhouse Coopers (2008).
“Department for Education: The Academies Programme” (September 2010) http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1011/academies.aspx