The education system in the UK had, until recently developed into a pretty much black and white choice between comprehensive, state funded schools or private schooling. There’s no getting away from the fact that private schools bring with them significant fees and as a result are often criticised for creating elitism in society. Only those who can pay have access to this often labelled “superior” level of education. However, this two-tier notion of education was challenged by the Labour Government back in 2000 when Tony Blair introduced the notion of academies. Backed by Andrew Adonis, who is now Lord Adonis, they pioneered the concept of a school that is directly funded by central government, but remains independent of direct local government control (in England) and they called it an Academy.
The whole thinking behind academies is to introduce a public funded element to independent schools to allow them freedom when it comes to providing education choices. The notion is that the freedom afforded to these schools will give rise to a better class of education. The freedoms enjoyed by academies include:
- Freedom from local authority control.
- Freedom to set pay and conditions for employees.
- Freedom to alter the delivery of the curriculum.
- Freedom to lengthen or shorten school days or terms.
All of that said, these freedoms come at a price however, and that price is the (understandable) requirement for tight internal control and strict management. The success of the notion of academies is largely down to the people at the helm of running them and their forward thinking attitude, tight systems of control and effective planning. Pre-academy option, the educational choice in the UK was a distinct game of two halves, private or state funded education. Academies seem to offer the perfect compromise between the two.
With many state funded schools coming under criticism for poor results, it has to be acknowledged that there are some comprehensives that are achieving excellent results with motivated pupils and outstanding Ofsted results, but there are also schools at the other end of the spectrum that are severely underachieving. It is perhaps for this reason that there is continuing evidence that many parents who were privately educated themselves continue to invest in private education for their children, even if there is a high performing comprehensive on their doorstep. While this may a taboo subject around many dinner or boardroom tables, there were, before academies, essentially only two choices. First, the traditional system of a good or bad state funded education system for all and second, private education for those who can pay. This whole concept is now being challenged by academies and this can only be good news.
In the greater sense of their being, academies become the vehicle which could re-introduce fairness and equality to the education system in the UK. At this moment in time, not only can state funded schools become academies, but private schools, which find themselves in financial difficulty, can also opt for academy status. When this sort of exchange starts to take place, the real return on investment for academies becomes clear. So that real return on investment could be a society where everyone has access to an education option that is top-notch, making the whole education playingfield more level than ever before.