The logic behind Academies
Free Will is what most believe to be the ability to actively engage and change the world around you and for most we believe that we have a conscious ability to be so. True conscious ability, as I have written about before, is not as conscious and we have first thought. History, society and education all influence how our conscious develops and the perceptions of which we take from the world. The idea that our perceptions of the world might not be are’s, but could possibly be the influenced by the interests of someone else feels very dehumanising. Yet, how society allows others to be educated is exactly this. Forced curriculum, denial of ‘truly free’ choice and the expectations that all individuals will ultimately finish education looking identical.
The true humanist education is one where an individual is provided with the opportunity of choice, reflection and action. To exist in a society where we are free to make our own decision is one where we believe that we to play a part in influencing the community and world at large. Yet, this freedom is only given to most during their adult years. So, if you live a quarter of your life without choice, reflection and action will you ever consciously engage with these? Or will your perspective and the decisions you make reflect those that you have been given?
Progressive education, originating in the late 19th century, was developed to educate students to be prepared for the world of the future. In doing so there was a focus on developing a critically engaged individuals who was educated with the skills to, communicate, evaluate, understand, reflect and take action in response to the world around them. This supported a person to have the ability to make a free, conscious, choice.
The purpose of Academies
If we want a humanist education then we must provide opportunities for a person to develop a critical consciousness and develop their own perspective on the world. However, this can only occur if we provide a person with the opportunity to make critically informed choices. Steve Hilton argues for this type of education in his new book. To paraphrase, if we know, and want, every individual to be their own person then shouldn’t we be pushing for schools that provide a spectrum of opportunities (schools ranging from traditional forms of education to forms of highly progressive education, to everything in-between, subjects specialists etc) for students to chose from?
The primary focus of academies is to remove power from central government and deliver this to the local communities. Stakeholders of the community are able to influence the people they develop in their small section of society as well as offering a greater diversity of schooling experiences, this drive genuinely empowers a community to become involved. To increase community engagement and support local industry, charities and other organisation are encouraged to invest into these schools to support their development. Yet, investments come with the reflections of interests. For example, a type of education that would support individuals working at their company. However, is it in a companies interest to provide a spectrum of opportunities? Would a management consultants really need their staff to have an understanding of art history?
The picture of private investment into academies does not reflect the ideal from which they were established on. How money moves in society is largely dependent on the interest of those who control most of it. An example of pre-academy influence is the investment into the Arts, in particular music, where a local authority spent £1.15 per child in the community during 2012. As a society we rank subjects and value them based on their relative commercial use in the future, with the arts featuring near the bottom. When thinking about the number of arts based big businesses willing to invest into schools the number is ‘surprisingly’ low. This might mean that unregulated business investment could begin to warp the spectrum of schools we want to see.
Distorting academy success
Academies are proven to enhance the educational outcomes of their students (2), but abuse of this is causing a widening gap in inequality. Under the Labour government only schools that were disadvantaged became academies. However, under new reforms any school in any community can now convert into an academy, this was typically high performing schools (5) which were not disadvantaged. In doing so the positive returns, originally identified in academies, will deliver better results for the most advantaged, reinforcing the inequality gap (2).
It is always dangerous to assume that correlation implies causation, but recent party changes now means that all underperforming schools are to become academies, this goes against the founding principle. The autonomy which we want to see in our schools will be replaced by the pressures of adhering to forced engagement where the investors and the recipients of funding have conflicting visions on what they want to achieve for their community. Therefore, supporting a very general education. (Solution for profit academies (3)). Therefore, it could be dangerous to assume that forced academisation will result in success. Previous success has only arisen after careful and thoughtful negotiations.
The current changes in the present economic situation in the country is financially squeezing schools to become academies, as opposed to schools selecting increased autonomy. An in-house review of the academy application process identified,
“There was no dominant main reason for conversion but the most frequently cited were: to raise educational standards; to obtain more funding for front-line education; and to gain greater freedom to use funding as you see fit.” (DoE, 2012)
This notion simply reinforces schools are experiencing funding constraints, rather than innovating, the academy system offers an opportunity to alleviate these restrictions or innovation by efficiency. This contradicts the fundamental changes we hope for. So are academies really improving by authentically innovating or are we just seeing an improvement in the efficiency of teaching methods as a result of enhanced funding? (For example, larger SEN departments, more resources, easter revision etc.)
Conclusion, but by no means the end of discussion
It is clear that the original autonomy that was envisaged for our academies, which did originally work, have been stripped away and streamlined to a one size fits all. Financial constraints and the reflection of business interests is twisting our schools to make cuts and innovations through efficiency as opposed to actually genuinely creating a 21st century education. This started as a great vision, but we have ended up sacrificing the power of choice and free will of the next generation as a result of politics and funding restraints. Is it worth it?
References – (1) Paraphrased from Radio 4 Archive Opinions on Philosophy
(5) http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/education-select-committee-optimistic-about-impact-of Further reading https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/academies.pdf