16 June 2008
WHAT PARENT in their right mind would want to send their child to a sink school? None of them, yet for there to be high flying over subscribed secondary schools there always has to be others at the bottom of the pecking order.
This age old problem was supposed to be eradicated by the introduction in the 1960's and 70s of a comprehensive system, but has not worked. Parents will always want the best of their children and the competition between schools will always be fierce - and rightly so!
Five years ago the 'News' published a front-page story 'Goodbye Council Schools?' that exposed a secret government hitlist which planned to change all of the borough's council-run secondary schools into City Academies. The government at the time remained tight-lipped about the secret list, yet the Liberal Democrat Administration at the Town Hall received the news positively. After all the change to academy status comes with a huge injection of cash. Half a decade on and the Government's plan is now finally being realised.
Back in 2003 Southwark was at the forefront of the City Academy strategy. It was the only borough in London with two city academies. After a successful campaign headed by Bermondsey gran Kate Southion, and supported by the 'News', a new City Academy was opened up in Bermondsey. And further south former Warwick Park Secondary was opened up as The Academy at Peckham. Others where quick to follow Peckham, many sponsored by the same carpet millionaire, Lord Harris. Aylwin Secondary became Harris Academy Bermondsey, Waverley became the Harris Academy for Girls and Bacon's City Technology College, which had previous investment from Harris, became an academy this academic year, as did Walworth Secondary, now Walworth Academy. Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Geoffery Chaucer technology colleges are opening in the next academic year as city academies changing their names to St Michael's and All Angels Academy and Globe Academy.
But a change of name cannot on its own hide failing school’s real problems. Twenty per cent of investment for each academy comes from the private sponsor. Supporters of this initiative talk about the benefits in more autonomy for heads, more cash to spend on attracting better teachers and extra cash to transform run-down and out-dated school buildings.
Those opposed to the new wave of academies argue that it is a far less accountable system and that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on the academies then their less well-funded neighbours. A report last year showed that principals of city academies earn one and a half times as much as their peers in ordinary comprehensives.
Southwark's three failing schools this week have been warned they will be turned into academies unless they hit government targets - despite two of them already being academies. The schools have been asked to step up to the mark, after they failed to reach a benchmark of having 30 per cent of pupils attain five good GCSEs including English and Maths. Kingsdale Secondary School, The Academy at Peckham and the Globe Academy now must meet the required target within three years or face up to the government threat of closure.
The fact that those that are academies, or are becoming academies, should be hit with a warning may suggest that this Government's is just obsessed with targets. Yet, lets not forget that in the past five years academies have brought about much needed financial improvement in a borough in desperate need of it - even if it was only for physical improvements. In 1999 a previous administration was an authority that was labelled as 'failing it schools' and was put on special measures.
Everyone would agree that academic and behavioural improvements are much harder to achieve, but the bottom line for those afraid of losing their jobs if their school is forced to re-start as an academy, even for the second time, should have nothing to worry about if they’reimprovements doing their job properly.
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