Waiting for Superman

Our headteacher has invited us all to watch ‘Waiting for Superman’ at the start of next term. Naturally suspicious I looked up the film on the internet and discovered a piece written by Rick Ayers for the Huffington Post that draws attention to the film’s one-sided promotion of academies (or Charter schools as they are known in the US). You can read this essay here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-ayers-/an-inconvenient-superman-_b_716420.html

Essentially the film argues that poor neighbourhoods in our cities are the result of poor teaching. It is teachers that are responsible for the poverty; no mention is made of any wider economic picture. Naturally, Charter schools are the solution, indeed the only solution. In much the same way the recent Academies Commission report, chaired by Christine Gilbert, ‘Unleashing greatness: getting the best from an academised system’ (January, 2013, find it here https://dl.dropbox.com/u/6933673/130109%20-%20Academies%20Commission/Academies_commission_report%20FINAL%20web%20version.pdf) talks excitedly about the new frontiers that are opening up for schools in England as they are cut adrift from local authorities whilst failing to mention the for-profit organisations waiting in the wings that are due to make a killing from these developments. The ‘Year Zero’ mentality is here in full effect as if teachers have never focused on the learning in their classrooms before; as if schools have never collaborated and communicated with each other before. Here are two quotes from the report proving that, despite strongly supporting “the aspirational vision that lies behind the academies programme”, it is a more balanced account than the horrid ‘Waiting for Superman’.

“Many previously poorly performing schools  – that are not academies – in disadvantaged areas have done just as well as those which embarked on the academy route.”

“The recent report from the National Audit Office (2012) highlights that Ofsted has judged almost half of all sponsored academies as inadequate or satisfactory (the latter now defined as ‘requiring improvement’). International evidence of the impact of similar systems continues to present a mixed picture.”

Considering this it is remarkable that the expansion of the academies program under the Coalition government is, as the study points out, “dramatic”, “we are seeing radical change in the English education system” it states. Could it be that the root inspiration for all this academisation is not, after all, what is best for the children? Anyone can talk about ‘improving pupil outcomes’, as the new jargon would have it, but academies do not always achieve this. Ken Loach, being interviewed about his new film ‘The Spirit of ‘45’, pointed out that there is more official talk about ‘community’ now than there was when community itself was a more vivid reality in people’s lives: where evidence is insecure or missing altogether the rhetoric is there to fill a gap.

What then is the real driving force behind the privatisation academisation of our schools?

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