That seems to the the consensus. For the last century at least every government has attempted to improve our nations education system in some way. Prior to that it was up to private enterprise, the Church, and endowments from wealthy patrons. Now the Academy model produces schools which are a hybrid of those two methods of providing education, and they are working. Our current government got the ball rolling, and according a Conservative Policy Green Paper (No. 1) this party admires the way ‘they [Academies] succeed in areas of real disadvantage.’
The Conservatives plan to ‘radically build on existing academy legislation,’ with the hope of (through the Building for Schools Fund [BSF]) creating 220,000 more school places (Pg. 40, Policy Paper Np. 1). That would be a smart move. The London Borough of Hackney has risen from 16th to 5th in the Value Added Rankings in London, in part thanks to an Academy School. PWC reports commissioned annually by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) since 2003 confirm a noticeable ‘Academy “effect”‘ on pupils performance, behavior, and aspirations. PWC also notes ‘the rate of improvement in academies is . . . often significantly greater, than the corresponding improvements in similar schools’ (Pg. 82, July 2007 report). The BBC reports that by January 2009 there will be 134 academies open across the UK.
Education Minister, Ed Balls wants schools “fit for the future,” and announced recently that approximately 45 universities are to sponsor academies. Liverpool University opened one in 2006, and so did the University of West England (along with Bristol City FC) in Bristol. So why is UCL’s planned academy in Camden, a deprived Borough of London, causing such a controversy, and is it warranted?
Opposition is coming from several sources and is strong enough to have sent UCL (represented by Vice Provost Michael Worton) to Court. Those UCL students so inclined submitted a motion to UCL Union’s AGM, which won some support. The National Union of Teachers has raised some concerns. The Diocese of London submitted a petition backed up with 1,900 signatures expressing interest in running the proposed academy. The Church operates 147 schools in London. The most vocal comes from within the left of the Labour Party (when Camden Council was Labour it rebuffed UCL’s advances), and from the Camden branch of the Campaign for State Education, who’s Vice Chair is Fiona Millar, a former UCL student and partner of Alastair Campbell.
Regardless of UCL being ranked in the top 10 universities in the world, their promise that it ‘will NOT be a selective school’ and that it will ‘follow Camdens’ guidelines . . . as closely as possible,’ everyone still seems upset. The same happened in Bristol and Liverpool, but the opposition melted once those academies were opened.
The same could happen in this case, given the immense academic and organisational support UCL will be able to give to the Academy, and the ways in which that will help the students. The real concern the opponents to this have is that there was no open competition. UCL is in a strong position to get what it wants in Camden; it is the largest employer and tax payer, and in terms of academic strength (in London) it is only rivaled by Imperial College, Kings, and the LSE. None of them are in Camden, and UCL’s success in its partnership with City and Islington College demonstrates how effectively it can diffuse its style of education and ethos to other academic establishments. In Sydney, Australia, UCL is opening another division of itself. Islington, Australia, and now Camden.
It is in its own backyard where opposition is the loudest. This definitely seems illogical. I support competition, but in this instance, where there really is no one else who can do (in this Borough) what UCL can do, a competition really would be a wasteful and prolonged exercise to either generate the same – or a worse – result. That certainly would not benefit pupils in the area. I simply wish that the High Court sees the logic in this view as well. Academies are the way forward, even in Camden.
By Dominic Tarn.