Should I send my child to an academy?
There has been a great deal of media coverage recently of the government’s decision to accelerate the academy programme. The Queen’s Speech is expected to contain a Bill forcing all schools to become academies by 2020. The Department for Education argument is that academies raise standards. And as every parent wants the best opportunity for their child, this begs the question: ‘Should I send my child to an academy rather than a school?’
As part of some all-round parenting advice, here are some facts and figures. Around 61% of secondary schools have already converted. This means that instead of being managed by the local authority, they are managed by a trust. Increasingly, groups of academies are banding together to form multi-academy trusts (MATs) and when a school converts, it can request to become part of an existing MAT. Some schools have converted by choice, and some have been compelled to convert because of poor standards. If you’re choosing an academy, you need to know the circumstances in which it converted.
However, only 14% of primary schools have converted and academy status is not something that most primary school heads and governors choose to pursue. Research shows that when successful primary schools convert to academies, they remain successful. When struggling primary schools convert, there is a measurable improvement in standards, so in this sense, the claim that academies raise standards is true. Data shows, however, that it is clearly not true where standards are already high, so the government may be overstating their claim.
So what does this all mean for parents making decisions about their child’s schooling? Should you look for an academy to get the best for your child? Or are there more important issues to be thinking about?
The most important factor is whether your local school is rated as a good or outstanding school. This means that it has strong leaders and skilled, dedicated staff, regardless of whether it is managed by the local authority or a MAT. If the quality of teaching is high, your child is in an environment in which he or she can learn well.
The question which parents most often ask is whether their child will be happy. The best way to judge this is to decide if the school feels right for you. It’s rather like buying a house – it just feels right, even though there are things about it that you might want to change. Ask about pastoral care and how your child will be cared for if things go wrong with friendships or they struggle to keep up academically. If you’re happy with the answers, choose the school.
So the simple answer is no, you shouldn’t be looking for an academy for your child just because the government says that standards will be higher. Look at the standards of your local school. Decide what’s important to you as a parent in terms of friends, extra-curricular activities and opportunities to flourish outside of academic learning. Then choose the best fit for your child. Whether it’s called a school or an academy doesn’t really matter.