Can stand-alone Academies survive in a new PR-driven marketplace?

Some ponderings on the following article that was published in TES magazine on 28th Oct;

In a spin over £1m PR bill

The failing Academy chain UCST is intending to spend £1million on PR over the next 5 years.

”The trust’s decision to employ a PR company has been heavily criticised by heads’ and teachers’ unions, which believe public funding is being sucked out of the school system. Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said money being spent on public relations was money not being spent on “books and teachers”.

The lack of accountability to parents in the way Academies are run is a familiar concern, but this article raises concerns about a lack of accountability to Government;

‘Mary Bousted, general secretary of education union the ATL, said the trust’s move showed there was a growing lack of accountability when it came to how academy chains were spending public money. “It is becoming harder and harder for the Government to track how these charities are spending taxpayers’ money,” Dr Bousted said.

If Michael Gove’s vision of all our schools becoming Academies comes to pass, then this sort of spending on PR will become commonplace, and if Mary Bousted’s concerns are justified then there will be little Government can do about it. It is an inevitable consequence of the privatisation of our state education system in which democratically accountable community schools are replaced with individual and chains of ‘independent’ state-funded schools. These schools are registered businesses and  have to compete as any other business does, in the marketplace. Like other businesses they will have to engage in advertisement and promotion to survive. Schools will sink or swim in a free market of schools. The chain in question has been sinking.

The trust’s academy arm has suffered a turbulent few years. Both of its Sheffield academies were judged to be inadequate by Ofsted in 2009, with Sheffield Park placed in special measures. Then education secretary Ed Balls banned the group from taking on any more schools until their existing academies improved. Last year, a third ULT school, Stockport Academy, was judged to be inadequate, placing the chain in fresh turmoil.’

As a struggling business, PR and advertising is probably critical to the ongoing survival of the troubled chain, but is this really what per-pupil funding should be spent on?

The previous Government banned the chain from taking on more schools, but…

‘ the current Government has lifted the ban on expansion and the trust’s rehabilitation has continued with the announcement that Jon Coles, the Department for Education’s director of standards in schools, is to be its new chief executive.’

It would seem that Michael Gove is pursuing his Academies crusade so blindly that he is willing to facilitate new Academies no matter what the educational cost to our children, and is happy to provide ‘jobs for the boys’ while he’s at it.

Any school considering converting to Academy status needs to ask itself whether individual stand-alone converter academies will be able to compete and survive in this new PR-driven marketplace. What are their chances of avoiding being swallowed up by the monster chains?