A tale of two academies

I’m in two minds about academies. There seem to be two types at the moment: those that are run by consortiums with huge amounts of money to throw into their schools and those that think that changing their name from Shankem Comprehensive to The Gove Academy for Young Ladies and Gentlemen will somehow magically raise attainment.

 The former type of academy like the Harris consortium or the Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) charity set up by French billionaire and Mr. Uma Thurman, Arpad ‘Arki’  Busson, have a strong set of values and beliefs as well as a bulging wallet.

 ARK now run eight academies in England, with six of them in London. Take, for example, the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. Although the school has been running since 2004, it has just moved into a £50 million building designed by Zaha Hadid, who comes fresh from designing the 2010 aquatics centre in Stratford.

 The school’s motto is ‘excellence, endeavour and self-discipline’ and there is a strict code of conduct as well as a clear teaching and learning structure and a programme of extra curricular enrichment.

 The first photos of the new building look incredible- a cross between an airport lounge and a P&O cruise ship, the school is designed to maximise learning. I’m wondering if I donned a uniform (blazer smartly pressed, top shirt button done up and shoes polished) they’d take me in for a couple of years.

 But not all academies are like this. Most remain in their tired old buildings with their tired old grounds and their tired old staff.

 With outstanding schools being encouraged to become academies by the coalition government I worry about future academies. Mr. Gove is keen for new academies to be released from the evil grip of their local authorities who only exist, of course, to make trouble for schools and to badger head teachers.

 Boo to the HR department!

Down with legal services and admissions!

Off with advisers, consultants and IT support!

Stuff your catering contract and your school library service.

 Some current academies continue to churn out poor GCSE results and improvements are made at snails’ pace.  A rose by any other name does not always smell so sweet.

 In my experience there is one major factor in any school improvement, be it academy, primary, secondary, special or PRU: inspirational school leadership.

 This means that a modern Head has to be business minded as well as wise about education. They need to have charisma, a firm handshake and skin the thickness of a dehydrated rhino that doesn’t moisturise.

 Heads need to be able to drum up support from business, from parents, from local communities and from pupils.

 They need to be able to manage a budget, mop a floor, write a business plan, fend off a ranting parent, take assembly, meet the chair of governors, praise a good piece of work and write the admissions policy.

 At the same time.

 Before break time.

With a smile.

 I couldn’t do it and I’m in awe of anyone who can.

 So let’s turn our focus to what makes a really good leader (no, Hitler and Pol Pot don’t count) and ensure that our children have the best school leaders possible with the best support possible from the government.

 Academy or not.


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