Across Islington, there are improved exam results this year. For the first time, all the secondaries got at least 50% of pupils achieving 5 or more passes at A to C. And overall they are up by 7% to 56%, while the national improvement rate is 2.4%. Good news given that Islington’s best-connected parents still tend to send their kids out of the borough (our local Labour MP and her former neighbours the Blairs included).
Meanwhile, according to the Sunday Times, Lord Adonis, (Islington resident and unrepentant Blairite), is calling for a massive expansion of the Academies programme. Islington has one academy up and running (St Mary Magdalene) and another about to open at Islington Green (currently 50% on GCSE performance).
Under Blair it was made very clear to councils that Academies were an offer they couldn’t refuse. Now it looks as if that will continue under Brown.
But hang on a moment. EGA’s not an academy. With 65% on the GCSE scale, Central Foundation boys school has outperformed the national average; but it’s not an Academy either. Nor is City & Islington Sixth Form College, which continues to get stunning results at A level. So do Academies really make a difference?
Islington has worked hard to manage the Government-imposed academy approach. Instead of mad millionaires, the sponsors are known quantities – the CofE for St Mary Mags and the City Corporation plus City Uni for Islington Green. St Mary Mags is a new school, its pupils too young to be sitting GCSEs yet. But it has made a difference in one respect; having a 10th secondary in the borough has made more places available at other schools. One mum of five is delighted that her youngest daughter has now got into the popular Highbury Fields school, something her older sisters never had the chance to do.
Schools will always do better -academies or not – if they can cherry-pick the best pupils or benefit from the high base of a well-educated, well-funded community.
What about inner city Islington? The End Child Poverty campaign makes the point that poverty is no excuse for poor performance. What makes a good school is having motivated staff, pupils and parents; a good quality school environment and teaching resources; and an ethos that’s about learning and achievement for all.
Academies have new buildings, staff and pupils who’ve chosen to be there, and extra money – so no surprise if they outperform schools in shabbier surroundings with a captive catchment. Attitude is as important as money, but that doesn’t necessarily come from the Academy model. Especially since the Building Schools for the Future programme means secondaries don’t have to become academies to get better buildings.
If the Government really believes its own rhetoric on localism, and believes that local communities should have choices around schools, that must include the choice to reject the Academy model. Schools and LEAs should be left alone to concentrate on continuing to deliver improvements for local chidren and families – as they are doing in Islington.