Thursday, September 11, 2008
Schools in the News: Academies in London
If you're like me, then you probably think of British schools as simply public or private.
Just like in Canada, but with uniforms and accents right?
Well, there's more to it than that. They also have academies, and some of our teachers are working full-time in brand new academies this year. So, let's explain what academies are.
Here's what the Dfes (Department for Education and Skills) says about academies:
"Academies are all-ability, state-funded schools established and managed by sponsors from a wide range of backgrounds, including high performing schools and colleges, universities, individual philanthropists, businesses, the voluntary sector, and the faith communities. Some are established educational providers, and all of them bring a record of success in other enterprises which they are able to apply to their Academies in partnership with experienced school managers."
Basically, they are new schools that are funded by the local government and a private sponsor, which can be a non-profit organization, a business, an individual and so on.
They offer a new approach and every one is different from one another. The main idea is that some areas of Britain have lower standards and achievements in school. So, an academy gets opened, and is a fresh start for the area.
Usually they are very strict, (which you can see in their dress codes, how the students stand in line, straight posture, etc.) and they tend to have strong leadership in the senior management team.
Here's an article in the Guardian today about academies and specifically about one of the Ark Academies. One of our teachers is working with Ark this year and I know she's very excited about being part of this new academy. Ark is a non-profit organization that works in the developing world as well. Read the article. It's good and will give you a much better sense of what academies are like than I can.
I have visited a few academies in Hackney and Brixton in London. What I saw really impressed me. I taught in Hackney & Brixton for 2 years, and know from first-hand experience just how tough some of those schools can be. I've also taught at outstanding schools in those areas as well though.
But when I went to visit the new academies, I was really impressed at how well the students behaved. These were the same kids I had taught the year before. The kids that threw recycling bins at each other, or climbed the bookshelves in the middle of my lesson. But when I saw them at the academies, they were walking proudly, talking quietly with their friends in the corridors (not the yelling I was used to) and actually listening to their teachers. Talk about night and day!
Now, I know there are parents and teachers out there that are very opposed to the idea of academies. One of the reasons for this controversy is the question of power & authority. Since academies are privately & publicly funded, how does one determine how much power the private sponsor has?
For example, what would stop Microsoft from opening an academy where they only taught students how to use their computer programs, and trained the students for jobs within their company? Or Pepsi? Or Coke?
Where is the line and how do we draw it?
So what's my point? Well, I guess it's just that this stuff is complicated. Read up on it. Do your research. We don't have anything like it in Canada, so this will be all new to you when you do start teaching in London. You might as well find out about it now.
Feel free to add your opinion to the mix in our comments section. Don't be shy! We love hearing from you.