Charter Schools in the UK are a VERY BAD IDEA

I was listening to Women’s Hour this morning and they were discussing the introduction of a 10 hour school day in the UK, as has been tried in some schools in the US, specifically aimed at lower income families. They start off discussing the virtues of this, the extra hours enabling time for reading, art, music etc, the types of non-traditionally academic subjects that children from lower income families are more likely to miss out on. They then give a startling figure that the schools where this has been tested in the states college admissions has risen dramatically from 10% to 80%. At first this seems absolutely incredible however what comes out in the discussion is that this is a deeply flawed statistic.

The schools that have introduced the 10 hour day in the US are a type of private school called a Charter School. They receive funding from the state (through a voucher scheme), but are run by private sponsors that can control the curriculum and management of the schools (anyone familiar with Academies in the UK will recognise this). A huge number of Charter Schools have recently been set up in the US, particularly in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. The reason that the 10 hour day system has been successful in increasing the percentage of people going on to college is quite simply that they are highly selective. They either only take very bright kids or, as is talked about on Women’s Hour, it is only the particularly active and engaged parents that will send their kids to these schools ie. the ones most likely to go on to college anyway.

Private education is such a bad idea already, the Conservatives plan to increase the number of Academies, or as they have imaginatively re-monickered them New Academies, will only make it worse. Allowing private companies to sponsor education, to effectively run the schools will increase the cost of education for the state and take decent education away from lower income families. Imagine if your school was sponsored by Coca Cola, or even worse BAE Systems – they’re slogan could be “Your child’s education, paid for by 392,979 Iraqi civilian deaths since 2003“).

Francis Beckett explains how private sponsorship of Academies works in the UK (taken from the Guardian extract of his book The Great City Academy Fruad)

Back in the dying days of city technology colleges, the Conservative government invented a system of smoke and mirrors which the academies programme has been swift to build on. In Lewisham, south London, the sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, a city livery company whose charter goes back to the 16th century, did not actually part with a single penny. Since it was already running a state school on the site, it “gave” the site to the new CTC. The CTC Trust valued a new 99-year lease on the land and buildings at more than £2m, and, magically, another generous and public-spirited sponsor had come forward.

The local education authority had put a lot of money into those buildings over the years, but they got not a penny to spend on Lewisham’s other schools. While the CTC was given £5.5m from the government for further improvements, Lewisham’s other 16 schools had £1.2m to share.

Today, that city technology college is to become a city academy, owned and controlled by the Haberdashers, benefiting from another large dollop of taxpayers’ cash, and taking over another local school. Just before Charles Clarke left the Department for Education, the new academy went up on the department website. “The main sponsor,” it said, “is the Haberdashers’ Livery Company.”

So how much, I wondered, was the sponsor putting in this time, in return for control of two schools instead of one? The council told me it did not know; the school said no one there could discuss it; the Haberdashers’ Company said only the school can discuss it. The relevant paragraph in the funding agreement is secret, and the government successfully blocked a request to see it under the Freedom of Information Act. Local rumour puts the figure somewhere in the region of peanuts. Lawyer Richard Stein managed to get it. Haberdashers is putting in just £295,500 out of a total cost of just over £38m.

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