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John Simkin

The Great City Academy Fraud

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This controversial and compelling book exposes the government's city academies project: the ways in which companies and rich individuals have been persuaded to sponsor academies, their real reasons for sponsoring them, the lies that have been told in support of the academies project, and the disastrous effect it will have on Britain's schools. It brings together existing research, by the author and others, and adds new findings, to build up a picture of a deeply flawed idea, which is educationally destructive and inherently corrupt.

Francis Beckett has agreed to discuss his book on the forum.

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I, like most of those involved in education, was appalled by the introduction of the government’s city academies project. It was clear from the beginning that it had nothing to do with improving academic standards. I suppose you could argue that it might eventually reduce the cost of government spending on education. However, that was always a gamble that was unlikely to succeed. If we look at other examples of government’s privatization policy, it would seem it was linked to the funding of New Labour. What do you think the main reason was for the government’s city academies policy?

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I, like most of those involved in education, was appalled by the introduction of the government’s city academies project. It was clear from the beginning that it had nothing to do with improving academic standards. I suppose you could argue that it might eventually reduce the cost of government spending on education. However, that was always a gamble that was unlikely to succeed. If we look at other examples of government’s privatization policy, it would seem it was linked to the funding of New Labour. What do you think the main reason was for the government’s city academies policy?

The reason had nothing to do with the money the sponsors provided. This money always was a drop in the ocean, and has now been reduced to the point where it is irrelevant. The real reason seems to have been a conviction that there was nothing the public sector can do which the private sector can’t do better. So at first the government hoped that academies would be sponsored entirely by business and by churches – the only organisations in whose hands it seems to believe our education system is safe. Of course this fell apart quite quickly. Churches were anxious for control, but did not want to put up large sums of money for sponsorship, and would only take control when given a business donation which covered the sponsorship. And the number of businesses willing to put up money for state education is very limited. So now the government is falling back on public sector sponsors like universities – and even, bizarrely, local authorities.

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It is reported in today’s Guardian that Lord Adonis is trying to persuade top independent schools to help run state-funded academies by dropping a requirement that they contribute £2m to starting costs. What do you make of this development?

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It is reported in today’s Guardian that Lord Adonis is trying to persuade top independent schools to help run state-funded academies by dropping a requirement that they contribute £2m to starting costs. What do you make of this development?

So anxious is Lord Adonis to bring the fee-charging schools on board that he is allowing them in without paying a penny. Dulwich College, the very expensive and very rich south London public school, is sponsoring the Isle of Sheppey academy, and is putting up no money at all. All the money is coming from Kent Councty Council – that is, from kent ratepayers. Dulwich College is contributing “help in kind” – time and expertise, apparently. What expertise this school, which educates only the sons of the rich, has to offer a school in the deprived Isle of Sheppey, I have no idea.

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It is reported in today’s Guardian that Lord Adonis is trying to persuade top independent schools to help run state-funded academies by dropping a requirement that they contribute £2m to starting costs. What do you make of this development?

So anxious is Lord Adonis to bring the fee-charging schools on board that he is allowing them in without paying a penny. Dulwich College, the very expensive and very rich south London public school, is sponsoring the Isle of Sheppey academy, and is putting up no money at all. All the money is coming from Kent Councty Council – that is, from kent ratepayers. Dulwich College is contributing “help in kind” – time and expertise, apparently. What expertise this school, which educates only the sons of the rich, has to offer a school in the deprived Isle of Sheppey, I have no idea.

When David Blunkett announced the academy programme in 2001 it was sold on the basis that it would provide more money for schools located in deprived areas. The latest change to system proposed by Lord Adonis will provide hand-outs from the taxpayer to private schools. The idea that teachers in private schools have the expertise to help failing schools is preposterous.

The quality of the teaching in these private schools has little to do with student achievement. These schools “succeed” in terms of exam grades because of the type of students they obtain and the level of spending on their education. Currently, private schools spend £9,000 per student per year, whereas it is £6,000 for state schools.

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You rightly point out that city academies dates back to October 1986, when the Conservative Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker announced the creation of a “pilot network of 20 city technology colleges in urban areas” and appealed for “sponsors in the business community”. When companies failed to respond to the initiative, Baker reduced the sum from £8m to £2m per school. In opposition the Labour Party rightly objected to this scheme as “wasteful and wrong” and the education spokesman Jack Straw called for the city technology programme to be scrapped. He even went as far as to say in 1990 that the sponsors so far were “second-order companies whose directors were interested in political leverage or honours”.

This is part of a pattern about the current Labour government. In opposition they criticised city academies, league tables, SATs, Ofsted inspections, etc. but once in power, they have adopted all these Tory policies.

Have you read Simon Jenkins’ book, Thatcher & Sons? Do you agree with Jenkins that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have carried on Thatcher’s policies with a “revolutionary zeal – going where even their mistress feared to tread.”

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