Two Cheers For Academies

When the idea of Academies was first mooted, my first thought was that we’ve been here before. Twenty years ago we had the Grant-Maintained Schools, which had control over their own lives to a large extent. The same sort of issues will be faced by Academies as was faced by GM schools (whether they realised it or not). However, it seems to me that, any legal or other differences aside, what is really different about Academies (and Free schools) is the political environment and the historical context. Back in 1990, we’d had only two years of the National Curriculum and no years of the National Strategies. Now, I may be regarding the past through rose-tinted spectacles, but I seem to recall that although the National Curriculum was ridiculous in its detail at first, there was none of the micromanagement about how it should be taught.

Since then, on various schemes of work and courses, I’ve seen guidance for teachers along the lines of:

Ask the group what they think of X. Give them 4 minutes. Then ask them to write down two examples of when that happened in their experience. Give them 3 minutes. Then put the following on the whiteboard and invite them to comment for 1 minute.

The only thing missing was an instruction to allow 10 minutes over the course of the lesson to look at the lesson plan.

I loved teaching, and sometimes think about looking for work teaching ICT for a day or two a week, but the only thing I dread is not whether the kids are all out of control, but finding myself working for someone who insists on a three page lesson plan for every lesson, setting out in precise detail what will be happening in every nanosecond.

So, although there is a danger that Academies may end up throwing the baby out with the bath water (they will have freedom from the restraints of the National Curriculum, but with the caveat that a broad and balanced curriculum, including the staple subjects English, Mathematics and Science -- such a pity that ICT was not included in that list -- is taught), surely there is every chance that this new-found freedom may be just the breath of fresh air that the ICT community needs?

It is worrying that the Free schools may not need to employ qualified teachers , and if true it seems to contradict Gove’s views on having the most qualified teachers:

We know that the world's best education systems have the most highly qualified teachers, and we are fortunate that the current generation of teachers is the best ever…

Nevertheless, I think on balance it’s an exciting prospect. Our job, that is the job of the ICT community in the UK, is to do our best to make sure that we continue to promote good practice in ICT, debate the issues, challenge questionable practices. How do we do so? I’ve already given my suggestions on this in a previous article, 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 18: Join a Group, to which I would add only that you may also wish to join the Vital community. (I have to declare an interest in that I am one of the forum moderators, but I wouldn’t have applied for that job had I not thought it was a worthwhile community to join!)

I attended the Westminster Forum conference on Free Schools and Academies recently, and the two main conclusions seemed to be (I am summarising here):

  1. Being an academy or free school makes a big difference to learning outcomes.
  2. Being an academy or free school makes no difference to learning outcomes.

In such a situation, we believers in the transforming power of educational technology and digital literacy can make a difference. A big difference.