News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Friday, 25 March 2011

Westbury Schools: an Academy Zone

The school buildings on Cheltenham Road.Image via Wikipedia

With both of Westbury on Trym's primary and junior schools applying to become academies, BS9 looks like, by September, it will be a neighbourhood with virtually no LEA influence. 

Westbury on Trym C of E Primary is further down the road towards academy status, with formal approval having been given by the Diocesan Board of Education to pursue the academy option and £25,000 from the department of education towards the initial legal and administrative costs of the move. A recent parent questionnaire saw 41 of 45 respondents from the school state that they were in favour of the school becoming an academy.

Elmlea Junior School, meanwhile, has held a public meeting to announce to parents its intentions to seek academy status by the autumn. The process will apparently involve the school becoming a (?) charitable company, rather than the more traditional route of the academy partnering with an external body (such as Oasis Educational Trust or, in the case of Colston's Girls' School, the Mercant Venturers).

The move towards academy status for local primaries was predicted on this blog last May. At the time, I noted that the Ofsted schools rated "outstanding"  and which were therefore eligible for fast tracking to academy status, were heavily concentrated geographically in the north and west of Bristol. The LEA, if such schools left its control and became non-fee-paying state-funded independent schools (which is the essential definition of an academy) would then be left with the less well performing schools in the centre, east and south of the city. 

I made the following observation at the time which I think is still applicable:

"Such a development would have major implications for the nature of the state education system. I wonder, for instance, how we would feel if this approach were applied to doctor's surgeries or old people's homes. It's one thing for individuals to "go private" with their medical or retirement needs. It's another to have two types of public service offering the same thing (primary schools) but paid for from different pots and serving, in practice, two different groups of the public - broadly speaking , the haves and the have nots."

In the end, the brave new world of the academy model should, in my mind, be evaluated not only by the outcomes of these schools, but by whether the system overall makes it easier or harder for children from low-income backgrounds to gain a good education and be empowered to realise their potential. 
At present, the verdict is out on that issue.

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