Schools worry about being left behind in academy rush
10 Nov 2011
Over the past couple of days I've been chairing two conferences aimed at schools that are considering converting to academy status.
It's been interesting to see how many primary schools, in particular, are feeling under pressure to consider the issue. Many fear they will be left behind if they miss the moment, such is the momentum of change with some 1500 academies now in existence (up from just over 200 at the last General Election).
Some interesting points were made by speakers, including those from the Young People's Learning Agency, which is responsible for funding academies. It was pointed out that the new funding system has changed since July and - as the speaker admitted - 'the days of open cheque-books have gone'.
There is general acceptance that the early converters often had substantial financial gains, but that looks far less likely in future. There is no longer a direct link with the per pupil funding formula used for local authority maintained schools. Instead, there is simply an assurance that no school will lose out by converting to academy status.
The biggest cultural shift for most schools is recognising that they will become, in legal terms, a company. As one lawyer who's advised many converters put it: 'you become a company, you become alone, that's uncomfortable for some people in education'.
The other interesting aspect of the conversion process is that it is a one-way street. There is no mechanism for returning to maintained school status.
Several speakers from schools that have already converted sang the praises of their new status. But most acknowledged that the things they have changed (uniform policy, school hours, ethos) could have been done without becoming academies. However they said the process of converting had been invigorating and had encouraged further innovation and reform.
For others - still teetering on the brink of change - there is clearly uncertainty and bafflement about what exactly is changed just by becoming an academy. Yet, judging by the rush to convert, there is an even stronger fear of being left behind as the last maintained school in the area.