Is the government plan to make failing schools academies the best way to drive up standards?

As many as 1,000 academy schools could be created (Source: Getty)

Nick Gibb MP, schools minister, says Yes

We are helping teachers reverse England’s educational decline by reforming qualifications, improving academic standards and opening new schools. But key to raising standards is ensuring that no children languish in failing schools. Thanks to the academies programme, we have already intervened in more than 1,000 schools.

But our new measures go further by allowing successful teachers and heads from other schools to intervene from day one. We are removing the loopholes that prevent schools from improving. Downhills primary failed its Tottenham pupils for almost a decade before we replaced it with an academy in 2012, against the wishes of obstructive campaigners.

Results have since soared and Ofsted now rates its leadership as “outstanding”. With evidence showing that sponsored academies improve their results faster than local authority schools, parents can be confident that turning failing schools into academies is vital to improving standards.

Steve Davies, education director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says No

We can agree that there are too many failing schools, and too many merely adequate ones. So there is a widespread need for improvement. The record of academy status in improving schools in terms of exam results is generally good. So it seems obvious that the way to improve is to move the remaining schools to that status.

Not so fast. This assumes that all underperforming schools do so for the same reason, and that there is a single standard response that will address it (academisation). This is almost certainly incorrect. More fundamentally, this assumes a single standard of success, with schools producing a broadly uniform kind of output.

This is clearly untrue, and the attempt to make all schools conform to a single model is precisely the problem with state education. The idea that all schools should deliver the same thing contributes to the problem that the suggested policy is meant to address.

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