children writing

A is for academy

By Shona Curvers 29 March 2016

Recent changes to education policy have got everyone talking. Following announcements made in this month’s budget, the Government released its white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere, which outlines plans for the English schools system over the next 5 years.

At the heart of the document lies the notion that schools require greater autonomy so that the most successful leaders can freely guide the schools system towards high quality education for everyone. Where necessary, capacity-building and support will be made available to facilitate this process. In order to achieve this, the Government plans to have all schools transition into academies by the year 2022.

Heated debate has ensued.

The education debate

The potential of ‘academisation’ to improve the performance of schools has been widely contested by those working in the education sector. The Government has controversially stated that a shift to academies will serve to more easily scale up teaching best practice to reach schools all over the country. These plans have been heavily criticised, in large part due to the lack of evidence to support such claims.

These debates come off the back of wider ideological discussions that are taking place in the education sector: Is education about passing on the ‘best’ knowledge from previous generations? Or is it about teaching students the skills they need to excel later in life and in the workplace, such as teamwork? Or is it some combination of the two?

The white paper outlines intentions to teach students ‘fundamental British values’ and character-building. But is this the responsibility of schools? What are ‘British values’ and who decided on them? Should schools adopt a social justice role, and educate along these lines? Or does this lie beyond the scope of schools?

At the crux of this debate lies the most basic questions of them all: What is education and why do we need it?

Where does this leave charities?

Figuring out how charities fit into this complex situation is no simple feat. The changing policy and funding environment has led to changes in the way that charities interact with schools.

But with so much pressure being placed on schools to be so many different things, there are more ways than ever in which charities can help out. For example, charities can offer valuable expertise to train teachers in non-academic areas, including how to recognise and prevent mental health issues in their students.

At the same time, however, these new pressures may be driving schools to focus inwardly, becoming unreceptive to the services being offered by charities. The flexibility and adaptability of charities during this time will be invaluable in helping them stay relevant.

So, what now? A lot is still up in the air. There is much more work that needs to be done to investigate the real potential of academies in achieving the academic performance that the Government believes they are capable of. Education charities need to stay up to date on the changes to their sector so that they can confidently figure out their place within it.

With this in mind, we’re working on a new publication School Report, which will provide a more in depth analysis of the opportunities and challenges that charities are facing as they work in this area. We will be launching School Report on 27 April. For more information about the launch event, click here. The report will be available for free download from the publication section of our website.