Many schools are awaiting the release of the latest league tables this week with trepidation after a number of media outlets speculated that more than a few schools that didn’t make the grade are likely to be targets for conversion into academies. In the United Kingdom, academies are publicly funded schools which are independently run by charities, school chains or entrepreneurs, similar to charter schools in the United States.
So far, over 600 schools across England have already been selected for conversion to take place when they open their doors again next fall. The academies were created to allow experimentation with different academic approaches in order improve outcomes for British students.
Academic outcomes in the UK have plenty of room for improvement if the leaks about the latest edition of the school-by-school league tables are to be believed. Graeme Paton of The Daily Telegraph reports that according to the new data, nearly a quarter of students graduated from primary school this year while not being at grade level in either English or mathematics.
Even though this represents a substantial improvement over 2011, when nearly a third of the primary school graduates didn’t have the required skills, the ministers warn that because the number of underachieving students is concentrated in low-income areas, the problem is actually more dire than it appears.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has pledged to target schools in inner-city communities such as Derby and Leicester where standards are “far too low”.
Speaking before the publication of the tables, he said: “There are hundreds more under-performing primary schools, many concentrated in other disadvantaged communities, where we need to act.
“Children in those schools are not receiving the education they deserve.”
In order to be considered satisfactory, each primary school must prove that 60% or more of its students graduate having the required knowledge in mathematics and English. Of 15,000 schools across England, more than 1,300 failed to reach that target last year. Upcoming data is expected to show that the number of underperforming schools has fallen to below 1,000. Although this represents significant progress, schools that have found themselves on the failing list for several years in a row will still be targets for takeover and conversion.
Teachers unions around Britain have expressed strong opposition to this kind of conversion, going so far as to organize campaigns to stop the conversion of a north London school last year.
Mr Gove said: “In a number of communities the local forces of conservatism have worked against reform and have thrown every possible obstacle in the path of potential academy sponsors and free school founders trying to make a difference.”