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The chaos of academies is not for Wales, says minister.

Byline: Gareth Evans Education Editor

THE UK Government yesterday unveiled in the Budget, legislation to turn every school in England into an academy, independent of local authority control, within six years.

It means all schools will be required to become academies by 2020 or have an academy order in place committing them to change by 2022.

If they refuse to switch status, ministers will be given new powers to force them to convert.

But what are they and what will academisation mean for Wales? | What are academies? Academies are effectively independent schools which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority as most state schools do now.

So who is responsible? The day-to-day running of the school remains in the hands of the head teacher, but they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called 'academy trusts' and may be part of an 'academy chain'.

Trust members are akin to the shareholders of a company and are able to enter into contracts, hold land, employ staff and be a member and director of other companies.

Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups. Sponsors are responsible for improving the performance of their schools.

Nevertheless, critics argue academies are less accountable than other state schools.

Who steps in if an academy is failing? In England, Ofsted inspects academies If an academy is failing, it is for the Department for Education to step in.

Last month, one chain of academies in England, run by the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), was found by Ofsted to have 40% of pupils in primary school "academies that do not provide a good standard of education".

"It is even worse in [AET's] secondaries, where 47% of pupils attend academies that are less than good," says Ofsted.

Do academies teach the same things? Academies don't have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times.

But they still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools.

Why do unions dislike them? Academies are publicly funded, but they have more control over teachers' pay and conditions.

Unions believe they create unnecessary competition between schools and "segregate and fragment communities".

The market-driven approach can see the best schools suck in the best teachers and resources, leaving other schools less attractive to pupils, parents and staff.

Academisation has also meant local authorities have lost money to provide support services for schools and there are concerns those in need of most help can go short.

So how common are academies? There are currently 5,170 academies in England - up from just 203 in May 2010.

The majority of academies are secondary schools, but some primary schools also have academy status.

The UK Government's plans for an academy revolution would have implications for both primary and secondary schools.

Are there academies in Wales? No. Academies were brought in by Labour under Tony Blair and were not copied in Wales.

The Welsh Government has responsibility for education in Wales and ministers here have said they have no plans to follow the same course being pursued across the border.

So what does happen in Wales? Wales has stayed loyal to the comprehensive system, with all state schools receiving funding from their local authority and being accountable to their local members.

The system ensures all state schools in Wales abide by the same rules and regulations and is therefore considered far less divisive. All staff are paid standard rates and there is currently no appetite for change within the sector or the Welsh Government.

Local authorities remain responsible for schools in Wales, in partnership with Wales' four regional education consortia.

Why doesn't Wales follow England? In Wales, policymakers say there is no strong evidence to suggest that England's academy programme has had a meaningful effect on standards.

England's chief inspector has provided mixed evidence.

One the one hand, he has warned that the largest academy chains have "serious weaknesses" and are as bad as the local authorities they were intended to replace.

On the other, he has praised the direction of travel in England, in comparison to Wales, and said that "the English education system is moving ahead quickly".

His view of academies is that the system has ensured there is "greater accountability - matching greater autonomy with greater accountability and that is working".

However, he has criticised the larger academy chains or trusts which have grown up in England, saying that executives collect huge salaries while pupils suffer.

What does Wales' Education Minister think? Huw Lewis said: "Wales will not be following the Tory model of academies and free schools for the simple reason that there is very little evidence to suggest that they have a positive impact in driving up standards in the classroom.

"There have been major reports highlighting the shortcomings of the academy model recently, including a House of Commons Select Committee report from 2015 that said there was no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status.

"In addition, just in the last few weeks the Chief Inspector of Schools in England has heavily criticised the governance of academies.

"The OECD conducted a major report on Welsh education in 2014 and they were very clear that you don't need academies to develop a worldclass, community-based comprehensive model of education and there are many other countries across the world that show that to be the case.

"Our focus in Wales is on ensuring world-class teaching and learning in the classroom through programmes such as Schools Challenge Cymru and reforms such as the new Donaldson curriculum. The highest GCSE results on record and the closing of the attainment gap at every level of education shows Welsh education is making strong progress. "The Tories have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on academies and free schools and as the Chancellor finalises his budget plans to slash vital services even further, he is committing them to wasting even more on a failing endeavour.

"We have no plans to introduce the chaos and waste of academies and free schools here in Wales."


<BThe Tories intend to turn all English schools into academies. This picture shows Prime Minister David Cameron meeting staff and pupils at Harris Academy in Bermondsey, south London
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 17, 2016
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