NEW ACADEMIES –GROWING THREAT TO INDEPENDENT SECTOR?
Over time good schools converting to Academy status could compete directly with local independent schools for pupils
Lord Adonis and Anthony Seldon are both committed to breaking down the apartheid between the state and independent schools sectors(so is Gove) and criticised, in the Times recently, independent schools for not supporting Academies, which they see as a means of breaking down the barriers between the sectors.
Only a handful of private schools have so far chosen to support an Academy. But what is becoming clear is that the new tranche of Academies look like they might, over time, provide direct competition to the independent sector. This realisation has crept up slowly on private Heads. Remember the first tranche of Academies, under the last Government, were generally in poor areas, with poor intakes and were, for the most part, replacing failing schools.80% of Labours academies were in the most deprived half of the country (around 40% of Gove’s Academies are).These initial Academies although generally performing better than their predecessor schools were certainly unlikely to trouble, in the performance stakes, local independents. However, and here’s the rub, this Government in allowing any reasonably performing school that wants to convert to Academy status to do so, may have set the cat among the pigeons. Some of these schools are, after all, really rather good, using any benchmark you care to choose. As Julian Glover put it in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago ‘ England may be ridding itself of the curse of the state-private school divide. When most schools are self-governing, and seem in most regards apart from the price tag and the snobbery to resemble the private school down the road, the difference between the two sorts will diminish.’ Already some private schools are involved in the state sector, not for profit but because they can do so without losing their independent status. An application is going in this week for a free school in east London, backed by six private schools, to teach A-levels to pupils from families with incomes below £26,000 a year. This is only the latest case of cross-fertilisation. Glover suggests ‘Our education system could resemble that in the rest of Europe, where private schools are the haunt of dim-witted aristocrats and ultramontane Catholics. Gove’s secret mission, perhaps? Independent schools for everyone, destroying the historic link between blood, class and the private system that sustains it.’ Glover’s assessment may be sound. Of course some parents will always opt for selective education and will still be seduced by the lure of extra-curricular activities, plush facilities and the social advantages an independent education can deliver. But if these new Academies can deliver academic results on a par, or close to par, with local independent schools, who would bet against them stealing pupils from these schools in increasing numbers?
The one thing though that independent schools cherish most and which they believe is a big part of their attraction is their independence from political meddling, and although Academies are ‘autonomous’ they can never entirely, as state funded schools, escape central government interference and the attentions of the Secretary of State.