I've been thinking about this for a while, and have come to the conclusion that either I am being an idiot, or Michael Gove is. If anyone can point out why its the former, I'll be happy to listen, because I'm not one hundred percent sure I'm not missing something.
Firstly, if you believe academy status to be a good way to "fix" a "failing education system", why only offer it to the succesful schools? I suppose you could answer this by saying "oh, it's just easier to start here, soon everyone will be an academy!" But it just seems strange to me that you start your giant educational reforms in the schools which are already working well.
But secondly, and more crucially, is the question of how academies are actually different from maintained state schools, and whether this change will have the desired effect of raising attainment and helping kids flourish.
It seems to me that the current best Academies are working for reasons that are unconnected to their academy status. You're setting up a new school, in a fantastic new building, in a socially deprived area. You hire lots of bright, motivated young things excited about this challenge of setting up a new school. At this stage, you're already more than half way there, and it's nothing to do with the fact that it's an academy.
Then you think about how you make your academy "different". Easy, right? You have "freedom from local authority control", so goodbye to all those dratted... educational psychologists?
I'm not clear about what "control" local authorities actually exercise over maintained state schools. I'm no expert on this, and willing to be corrected, but it doesn't seem to be much at all. The things that constrain us as teachers and managers are national, not local. National league tables, Ofsted, HMI inspections, and national legislation on things like literacy and safeguarding. There are of course arguments to be had about whether these things are beneficial to kids (and my response to the list above is, respectively: No, Not in it's current form, No, Yes, Yes) but freeing schools from local authority control will not change those things. Academies have as much duty as any other school to pass Ofsted (and sometimes they don't) and to follow the law on things like Every Child Matters.
"Ok", you say, "well at least I'm freed up from that horrendous national curriculum. Out with silly, pointless PSHE and in with Latin!" This is bollocks for a range of reasons. Firstly, contrary to what you may have read in the Torygraph, the national curriculum is designed to be relatively adaptable. Schools can decide how they cover the topics (through discrete subjects, learning areas, assemblies, tutor time, etc) and some topics (like PSHE) are unstatutory (that is, you don't have to teach them if you don't want to).My school is undergoing a massive curriculum review, and none of the significant changes that we want to make are being constrained by the national curriculum. Secondly, the national curriculum ensures kids get a well rounded education, no matter what kind of loony head teacher is running their school. Religious nut? You still need to teach Science, and round-earth-Geography. You can add things to the national curriculum if you think your kids would benefit from it. I know lots of state schools that teach Latin and Mandarin.
But the biggest point here is that the successful academies do not change the curriculum beyond recognition. Furthermore, the West London Free school (run by a group of parents) has just spent three weeks thrashing out it's curriculum, and seems to have created, wait for it, the national curriclum plus Classics. Congrats guys, time well spent. None of the things they want to do would be impossible in a maintained state school, we just would have got there a little quicker.
Lastly, Academies have the freedom to regulate teachers' pay and conditions. This one might have an impact. We can save the debate on performance related pay for another day, but it's clear that being able to change pay structures or benefits packages might help you attract good teachers. If that is the point, why offer this ability to schools who are already succeeding? Surely all this is going to do is cause a brain drain from schools which need excellent teachers, to schools who are doing just fine.
Besides, all of this ignores the fact that Gove has promised these two freedoms (to change the curriclum and teachers pay) to maintained state schools. It's therefore becoming harder and harder to get a cigarette paper between the two systems, and here we come back to my original question: am I missing something? What's the point?