We want more academies


There was a protest across the road from the ASI last night. Not directed at us, but rather at our neighbours, the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

There is plenty to protest about. Like the fact that Britain has plummeted down the international league tables of school performance in maths, literacy and science. Or the fact that 350,000 pupils a year fail to get five good GCSEs including maths and English. Or even the fact that children in deprived areas do far worse than those in wealthy ones, with the gap growing wider.

But the protestors weren’t there about that. They were protesting about one of the good things the department is doing – its city academies programme. More specifically, they were protesting against the new academy which is due to replace Pimlico School in September. Frankly, their opposition puzzles me.

After all, city academies (independently run state schools) do much better than the schools they replace. Their test scores and GCSE results are improving much faster than the national average, even though they admit more pupils with special educational needs or eligible for free school meals than their area average. Most tellingly, existing academies are three times oversubscribed, which is to say a lot of parents want to send their kids to them (a good indicator of quality, in my opinion).

The funny thing is, the reason the protestors don't like academies is also the main reason for their success: they are free from local authority control. They have more power to shape their own curriculum, to hire and reward staff, and to deal with unruly pupils than do other state schools. Rather than being weighed down by rules and regulations, they can innovate and tailor tuition to their pupils' needs.

Academies are not perfect, of course. They should be even freer from the state. They should focus less on fancy new buildings and more on teaching. Most importantly, they should be much easier to set up, so that more children get to attend them. But whatever the protestors say, the country needs more academies, not less.