From education to employment

Prime Minister Believes Academies are the Future

Prime Minister Tony Blair used his speech at the City of London Academy (CLA), to underline and remind sceptics of the succesess that he has overseen in the education system.

Speaking on the first day of the new school year Mr Blair congratulated the principal of the CLA, Martin Coles, and their sponsors the Corporation of London for the growth and improvements at the school. Of course the praise was more specifically about the merits of the city academy programme, introduced by New Labour, and the Prime Minister went on to catalogue reams of statistics emphasisng the massive investments education has received under his premiership.

The greater investment, said Mr Blair, has meant under-performing schools have been turned around and increases in teachers salaries, up to 15%, have driven up the number of graduates entering the profession. The extra staff in secondary schools for support workers and teaching assistants have given teachers more time to prepare lessons, which may explain the rise in teaching standards, up from 59% to 72%. The increasing investment in technology in the classroom is another hallmark of the educational reforms implememnted by New Labour.

On Defending Academies

Mr Blair’s irritation at the criticism levelled at the city academies was ill disguised as he set out his vision of how schools should evolve in the future. He said: “The logic of changing to the specialist schools, of starting City Academies, of giving greater freedom to schools in who they hire, what they pay, how they run their school day, is very clear.”

As City Academies represent part of the Government’s vision for the future, the Prime Minister naturally singled out specific academies who are changing the way they structure teaching, such as City Academy Bristol where, he states, “local business people have been brought in to work as mentors with school staff to help the school operate in a more business-like way. Bristol also has an outreach team drawn from the local community helping to persuade parents of the importance of their children staying on at school.”

A Negative Press

The Prime Minister attempted to dismiss the medias” negative reporting of the academy programme stating: “Independent state schools are what they are. And the test of their success will not come in media stories about the odd case of failure (and incidentally such stories could be written, but rarely are, about the non-academy failures); it will come in the list of parents trying to get into school.”

The emphasis on new and innovative teaching and vocational training approaches is as commendable as the academies” ability to determine its own fate through control of their finances. But the fact that the schools can (and have) sold off parts of their grounds, playing fields etc to private companies; or that private companies can “invest” in these schools with no apparent intent to profit from the investment has made many people nervous. As we have seen many foundation hospitals have found themselves to be poor at controlling their budgets. Will the academies fare any better?

Dan Atkinson

Negative press seeing everything as black or white? Explore the grey area in the FE Blog

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