Academy Applications Grind to a Halt in Birmingham

And a new phase of forced Academy conversion begins

A comparison of the DfE’s latest publication list of schools applying for Academy status  with the list published in August shows that since August only 4 Birmingham schools have submitted applications to become Academies. Furthermore the current list up until December 2011 shows that last month no schools in Birmingham submitted an application at all, not one Birmingham school opened as a new Academy and no applications from Birmingham schools were approved by the DfE.

If this Wikipedia list of Birmingham’s schools is correct, there are 400 state schools in Birmingham – 296 Primary schools, 76 Secondary Schools and 28 Special Schools. Of these, 24 are Academies (7 Sponsored and 17 Converters). According to the DfE’s latest publication there are a potential 12 more in the pipeline. Assuming all 12 convert (which is by no means certain), that will make a total of 36 Academies. That still leaves 364 (or 91%) of Birmingham’s schools yet to convert. By school phase – 61% of Secondaries, 92% of Special Schools and 99% of Primary Schools in Birmingham have not applied to be Academies. Fewer schools in Birmingham have converted or applied to convert than have done so nationally; the Anti Academies Alliance calculates that up until November 2011 58% of Secondary schools and 97% of Primary schools nationally had not applied to become Academies.

This apparent halt in Academy applications in Birmingham tallies with the recent assessment by the Children’s Services Network that the rate of schools converting to Academy status nationally is slowing down. The CSN estimates that at current rates it will take 30 years for every school to become an Academy. The slow-down would suggest that the majority of schools inclined to convert voluntarily, have now done so. This was the opinion expounded at the Anti Academies Midlands conference by National Secretary Alasdair Smith. He explained that Michael Gove is entering a new and much more difficult phase in his mission to make every school an Academy – a phase of forced Academy conversion.

The stick Michael Gove has been using so far has been aimed at Primary Schools and involves a particularly disingenuous use of national averages. If pupils have not made average progress the school is deemed to have fallen below the minimum standards and is pressured into becoming an Academy. Of course, an average being what it is, there will always be schools that fall below it. There are a multitude of reasons why this might be the case, higher than average levels of deprivation and numbers of pupils with English as an additional language to name but two, but the reasons why pupils might have made below average progress are not taken into consideration. This means that even schools judged by OFSTED to be good or outstanding could find themselves on Gove’s hit list.

But the blatant misuse of national average data is not a big enough stick to tackle the huge majority of schools that have shown no interest in converting voluntarily, so Gove has used the 2011 Education Act to further increase his powers to force schools to become Academies. The Education Act 2011 received royal assent on 15 November 2011 and greatly widens the range of circumstances in which the Secretary of State can direct that a maintained school is ‘discontinued’, and thus is replaced by an academy. For more on this see David Wolfe’s blog post Education Act 2011 – Secretary of State gets wider powers to force academy conversions.

Head teachers in Haringey recently made their views on forced Academy conversion clear in a resolution passed in October opposed to the Secretary of State forcing some of their schools to become sponsored Academies. How Birmingham schools will respond to this new phase of forced Academy conversion is yet to be seen, but I for one am looking forward to the fight.