I have read the liberal party policy document on “Academies”, and I note that you are broadly against them. We are told by the Guardian that there is a spat going on behind the scenes between yourself and the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, who wants to allow the Academies and Free Schools to make profits. Gove was on TV today on Andrew Marr saying he had no objections to Academies making profits and that there was “no difference of opinion” between you and him, because you and he believe that there is no need for a profit motif in schools, “at the moment”. I assume that you do not like being misrepresented by Gove and have already given him a severe bollocking.
Michael Gove used the phrase “at the moment” twice, signalling his intention to introduce the profit motive at some other “moment”, and that “moment” would of course be after the next election when you are unlikely to be available to moderate his Tory agenda.
I would like to claim that there is already a disguised profit motif in the current “philanthropic” Academy programme, just as there was in the charitable organisation that was responsible for the recent care home scandal exposed by the BBC.
Academies are built using public money and then run using public money. The nominated private companies that now run Academies were trumpeted as investors of cash in the schools that they take over, but this rarely happens, and if ever they invest any cash, it is never more than a token sum. The remainder of the budget is provided by the local authority, and in turn provided by the council tax payers in the locality.
Academies are not required to publish their accounts, and they alone control and determine how the public money is spent. Nor are they subject to the Freedom of Information act.
However we do know about the notable salary increases in Academies, particularly for head teachers. Academies are not required to reveal the salary structures but some head teachers have more than doubled the pay of what would otherwise have been awarded by a normal pay scale of teachers and head teachers. £200,000 salaries are not unknown and even the Tory friendly Daily Mail are outraged.
Gove has suggested with a seductive twinkle in his eye that teachers should not complain, because teachers are bound to earn more in the new Academies. If only that were the whole truth? Michael Gove admits that Academies and free Schools aspire to make a profit, as if we did not already understand that. So how do these Academies balance the books, pay these high salaries, and keep the class sizes down to a level that cannot damage the education of the pupils in their charge, and at the same time, and above all, make a profit?
The short answer is that they do not achieve this, and that the repeated mantra of success is a myth, if not deliberate misrepresentation.
We know that when an Academy takes control of a former state school, they look at the staff and set about removing staff that do not satisfy their criteria. The culling of staff can be brutal, and frequently illegal. The most capable staff are most likely to resent the new regime, particularly if the new regime, is inexperienced and cavalier and led by a new head teacher who may have a secret agenda. Ironically, Academies are hastily formed would-be charities without the experience, nor understanding of the task in hand.
They are bound to rely upon the incumbent staff when they take over a state school, but they immediately set about disposing of assets to balance the book, and can do so recklessly and incompetently. They tend to drive out qualified career teachers and this does save money because they are not necessarily replaced. They set about importing teachers from across the world who become horrified by what they find and disappear toot suite. They rely upon supply teachers and elevate mothers of pupils as teacher assistants, and pretty soon the lowly paid teacher assistants are doing the majority of the teaching, and qualified teachers become an expensive luxury.
So Nick Clegg, today you repeated your opposition of the profit motif in free schools and Academies, but is this enough?
If you are against the profit motif you should be against the Academy Programme per se because it was always motivated by profit, disguised as a charity.
I would be happy to meet with you and share a pot of tea and a biscuit.