United Kingdom Chancellor George Osborne used his Budget speech to announce that all schools in England will become academies and have an extended school day by 2022.
The reform was announced as part of a $1.5 billion package in funding for education, which was announced alongside new spending measures to improve infrastructure in London and improve the quality of life for the capital’s homeless. Additionally, a quarter of secondary schools will be given the funds to extend the school week by five hours.
According to Sebastian Mann, a reporter for the Evening Standard, the move has frustrated teachers’ unions, which claim the government’s effort is “undoing over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke.” When a school becomes an academy, it is freed from local authority and gives head teachers and governors more influence over school discipline, curricula, and budgets.
Since coming into office, Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly stated his intention to make every school into an academy, and Osborne — his heir apparent — is on board with the reforms. “It is simply unacceptable that Britain continues to sit too low down the global league tables for education. So I’m going to get on with finishing the job we started five years ago, to drive up standards and set schools free from the shackles of local bureaucracy,” Osborne said.
WBGraeme of the West Briton notes that the wholesale transfer of schools to government control will end 100 years of local councils being held responsible for education. Any school that failed to become an academy by 2022 would be forced by the government to do so.
Originally, the academy status, introduced by the Labour government, was used for schools in dire straits that desperately needed improvement. Since 2010, however, schools have been encouraged to convert to academies and have been subsidized by the government for making the transition. Reporting for the BBC, Katherine Hellgren writes that of the 3,381 schools in England, 2,075 are academies. By contrast, only 2,440 of the 16,766 English primary schools have academy status.
Chair of the Education Committee Neil Carmichael says: “Some academies are delivering great results for their pupils, but in progressing to a fully academies system we must ensure all schools are properly held to account for their performance.” The National Children’s Bureau has said there is evidence that local authorities were as effective as academies in providing quality education.
For its part, the government maintains that academies will “put the next generation first” with a “bold plan to make sure that every child gets the best start in life.” Interestingly, the debate in England over education authority inverts the analogous debate being waged in the United States. Generally speaking, American conservatives want local control over education to reduce the influence of teachers’ unions and the federal government. In England, conservatives are attempting to increase state authority to weaken unions and local organizations.
Unsurprisingly, however, the debate over education in England features the same condemnatory rhetoric as it does in the United States. Chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said, “This budget puts the next generation last and set to be the poorest generation for decades.”