England & Wales

No return to one-size-fits-all

Yesterday morning, it was announced that a third academy will be placed in special measures. It looks like bad news for the programme.

Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the ATL, used the news to call for an independent review of the scheme. “Some academies are very good, some make very little difference and some do not succeed”. This variability, she argues, calls the whole scheme into question.

But this criticism rather misses the point. Academies have greater freedom to innovate. Some academies have been able to use this freedom to break new ground and transform education.

At Mossbourne Academy, a flagship, 40 per cent of children receive free school meals but 85 per cent achieve five A*-C GCSEs.

Others, inevitably, have struggled. But that does not mean we should return to the comfort blanket of local authority control. As Jonathan Carr-West has argued elsewhere on this blog, the best services are free to innovate and experiment. This freedom is at the heart of Mossbourne’s success.

Freedom brings both success and failure. The real challenge is to learn lessons from both. Fortunately, the intense scrutiny that academy schools are subject to helps ensure that this process happens. The sponsor of the struggling school has already named a new regional director.

It could be argued that the failure of the school in fact demonstrates a system in rude health. A national monitoring system has identified failure and the sponsor has swung into action. And it’s precisely this kind of intolerance to under-achievement that the academies scheme was designed to promote.