Not against academies but they are not a silver bullet for improvement

Current government  policy he claims  eschews vital ingredient ‘collaboration’


The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, in  his speech to the ASCL, last weekend, claimed that this governments academies policy resulted in a two tier system and  was  not encouraging system wide reform. He said “I believe Michael Gove has learnt the wrong lesson from New Labour’s school reforms. He thinks that academies are about recreating the grammar school model. A group of high flying schools which are given additional funding and support, but no plan to raise the quality of education across the whole school system.  An increasingly fragmented schools landscape, while what we need is better collaboration between schools to raise standards.  Labour’s original academies programme was about how you realise the comprehensive ideal  – mixed ability education with rigorous standards.  We focussed on driving up standards in some of the most challenging schools in some of the least well off neighbourhoods.”

He talked of an Arc of Underachievement which holds back the life chances of too many children across the country with too much inconsistency. He said “ Michael Gove thinks that the answer to this underperformance is to create free schools and  academies.  But if this was the case – why is the worst performing school in England, an academy. Why  is that of the Free Schools who have had Ofsted inspections – all of the secondary schools – admittedly only three – have been inspected, have been giving a “requires improvement”  rating, despite having wealthy intakes and not one of the schools is rated as outstanding?”

Twigg reiterated that he was  not against academies, but nor does he think they are a ‘ silver bullet’ for  school improvement.

He is proud of Labours academy record. He said, referring to the recent report of the Academies Commission: “The Commission is absolutely clear about the impact of Labour’s academies programme.  While I know that some people would like Labour to condemn academies – I will not. They helped raise standards amongst some of the poorest children in Britain. We should be rightly proud, and celebrate the teachers and heads that delivered.  As the Commission notes, “these early academies revitalised the system, including initiating a shift in culture…[they] showed just how much could be achieved with high aspirations,  determination that young people would achieve well, and a rigorous and consistent approach  to school improvement.”

Crucially though , Twigg believes that the current system is atomised and missing a  vital ingredient for system improvement –collaboration. He said “The problem is at the heart of Michael Gove’s approach. A free market ideology fails to understand that collaboration is critical to school improvement.  Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s work on education has said that “professional autonomy needs to go hand in hand with a collaborative culture, with autonomous schools working in partnership to improve teaching and learning.” He points to schools in Scandinavia, Japan and Shanghai which have embedded a culture of teamwork and cooperation.  However, nearly two thirds of academies are ‘singletons’ – not part of a school improvement partnership. These represent the bulk of academies set up since 2010. An increasingly fragmented, atomised system where schools are not encouraged to  collaborate.”

Twigg concluded: “Michael Gove missed a golden opportunity with the converter academy programme. He promised to promote collaboration in the Schools White Paper in 2010. He could have made it a requirement of a school becoming an academy that they support a weaker school, but he failed.”

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove , says that  rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards.  He points to the fact that two  of the most successful countries in PISA – Hong Kong and Singapore – are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition (Finland,  though, another high flier  eschews competition). He wants both competition and collaboration. In a speech to the the Schools Network in December 2011 he said “Overall, our vision for the future is of a self-improving network of schools, innovating and engaging, competing and collaborating, teaching and training, for the benefit of all our children.”



  1. The skilled and professional teachers I was fortunate enough to work with during almost 20 years in the classroom thought “collaboration” was something that happens under occupation.

    Mr Twigg seems to be ignoring the reality that precious few academies exist in isolation. Most function as part of a larger group or chain, with a consciously shared identity and culture.

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