Education reporter LINDA WHITWAM looks the move by Kirklees schools to take up Academy status
THREE more Kirklees schools are hoping to become academies.
Salendine Nook High School, Birkenshaw Middle School and the Community Science College at Thornhill are the latest to apply to the Department for Education (DfE) for Academy status.
The trio is hoping to join the growing ranks of schools in Kirklees, which have already opted out of local authority control and converted to academies.
Salendine Nook should be the first to change this year.
According to headteacher Mrs Christine Spencer, the school is “on track” to become an academy on February 1.
The process usually takes about three to four months and, if granted, would bring the total number of academies in Kirklees to 10.
The others are: Moor End Academy, Shelley College, The Mirfield Free Grammar and Sixth Form, Heckmondwike Grammar School, Castle Hall Academy Specialising in Languages at Mirfield and Batley Girls’ High School – Visual Arts College. Lindley Junior School is the only Kirklees primary school to have converted to date.
Academies operate outside local government control, although they must follow the National Curriculum in core subjects and are still subject to Ofsted inspections.
They are directly funded by the DfE. Most receive additional support from outside sponsors and are set up as registered charities.
Academies were the brainchild of Tony Blair, who established them in 2000 to drive up standards by replacing failing schools in struggling local authorities.
Any school can register an interest in becoming an academy, as long as the governing body agrees. Schools are required to consult before converting, but it is up to them to choose who and how they consult.
A converting school automatically receives a one-off payment of £25,000 from the government to help finance the process.
A DfE spokesman told the Examiner: “Academies are public-funded independent schools that provide a first-class education.
“They benefit from greater freedoms to innovate and raise standards.
“These include freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff and freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum.”
Some reports indicate that academy headteachers may receive up to £30,000 more than their colleagues in state schools, although the DfE would not confirm this.
They did say: “They are free to reward their headteachers and teachers with salaries that reflect their dedication to the job.
“Academies receive broadly the same funding as maintained schools. Where they pay higher salaries, this may be to reward teaching staff for working more flexibly and taking on more responsibility.
“We are confident teachers will consider a range of issues when choosing the right school to work in, not just the salary.”
On the question of funding, he said: “The Department provides a capital grant for academies, although capital funds for new pupil places where there is basic need for such places due to demographic changes would come through the local authority. Requests for such capital funding is considered on a case by case basis.”
Pat Thompson, headteacher at Lindley Junior School, which became an academy on October 1, claimed that the move had saved five learning support jobs.
She said: “Becoming an academy allows us to be in control of our destiny. We believe we can make better choices about how to spend the money that’s given to Lindley pupils.
“You won’t find the name ‘academy’ popping up in the school’s title. For us it’s about continuity.
“The ethos is the same, the values are the same, the focus on the quality of the teaching is the same.”
Lindley Junior School will be spending some of its government budget to buy services, such as payroll facilities, back from Kirklees.
Academies are not without controversy, despite a number of successes. Criticisms include: wasting government money, damaging surrounding schools and communities, education privatisation by stealth and the claim that they are sometimes forced on parents against their wishes.
Academies are one of the fastest-growing types of educational establishment in the country. In May 2010, there were 203 academies in England. On December 1, 2011, there were 1,463.
A spokesman for Kirklees Council said: “Clearly there have been changes to the national education system which have had an impact at local level, not just in Kirklees, but all around the country.
“Attainment levels continue to improve and, although there is more work to be done, our aim is always for high standards to be achieved at all key stages and in all age groups.
“While some Kirklees schools have gone down the academy route, others have opted to take on trust status, which involves strong links with local organisations.
“For example, North Huddersfield Trust School – the first new secondary school in Kirklees for over 30 years – is supported by a range of businesses, community organisations and education providers, including the council.”
The spokesman added that a Scrutiny group had been set up to look at best practice in the way schools consult on academy applications.
CRITICS of the Government’s academies programme are the “enemies of promise”, Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted.
Mr Gove said ministers will press ahead with plans to transform 200 of the worst performing primary schools into academies, claiming that local education authorities which stand in his way are “happy with failure”.
In a speech at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in south-east London, an “all-through” academy educating children aged from three to 18, Mr Gove said that while most councils are co-operating with his department’s reform programme, some are being obstructive and intent on using the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children.
“The same ideologues who are happy with failure – the enemies of promise – also say you can’t get the same results in the inner cities as the leafy suburbs so it’s wrong to stigmatise these schools?
“Let’s be clear what these people mean. Let’s hold their prejudices up to the light.
“What are they saying? ’If you’re poor, if you’re Turkish, if you’re Somali, then we don’t expect you to succeed. You will always be second class and it’s no surprise your schools are second class’.
“I utterly reject that attitude.”
Mr Gove also highlighted a recent study by academics at the London School of Economics, who found the academies programme generated “a significant improvement in pupil performance”.
The Government also released its latest figures for academies. There are now 1,529 academies, compared with only 200 when the coalition came to power. Of those, 1,194 have been converted from schools, while 335 have been sponsored.