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Written by George Owen

First Schools, Now Social Services and Prisons?

Last October, PM David Cameron announced that he wanted every school in England to become an academy. This plan was confirmed by the chancellor George Osborne in his Budget on 16th March, with a deadline of 2022.

The academy model was initially applied to schools that Ofsted classed as “failing”, however, all schools are now required to become academies, regardless of the wishes of teachers, parents and communities. It’s a move designed to transfer power away from local authorities and give head teachers or principals control over how schools are run.

Children’s Social Services

David Cameron has announced that he now wants children’s social services to follow suit. Any “inadequate” children’s services department will be given 6 months to improve or it’ll be put under the control of an independent trust – the social services equivalent to an academy school.

Academy Prisons?

Prisons are also in the government’s cross hairs, with the justice secretary, Michael Gove, introducing league tables and a new bill to put “failing” jails under the control of more successful prisons. These “reform prisons” will work in a similar way to failing schools that have been taken over by academy trusts/chains.

The draft prison reform bill is expected to be introduced in the Queen’s speech at the next State Opening of Parliament on 18th May. The bill will set out the legal framework for new academy-style prisons, which are designed to give governors greater autonomy over staff, budgets and the day-to-day running of the prison.

But Does the Academy Model Work?

Well no, not really. Of the 5,000 schools in England that are currently academies, only 15% are performing above the national average, according to the Local Government Association (LGA). The same study shows that 44% of council-run schools are performing above average in terms of pupil progress.

These statistics don’t bode well for children’s social services and prisons. In fact, the first independent trust for children’s social services, which was established in Doncaster last year, was recently given an “inadequate” rating by Ofsted.

Stealth Privatisation?

The government claims “academisation” is about introducing innovation, but sceptics suggest it’s more a case of privatisation by stealth.

Writing in the Guardian about the academisation of statutory children’s social work services, professor Ray Jones states, “Like schools, these services that help and protect children are to be moved outside of local authorities and placed within a marketplace, with commercial outsourcing companies circling to get contracts and opportunities for profit.”

David Cameron’s conservatives have been accused of implementing a cut-denigrate-privatise strategy to struggling public sectors (which the NHS appears to be in the midst of), and it’s not a stretch to see these “radical reforms” as part of the same equation.

It’s harder to imagine that councils and prison authorities will voluntarily adopt the academy model when the connotations point so clearly at failure, but if it comes with a boost to funding (as the school model did), it might be an offer they can’t refuse.

We’d love to get your thoughts on these proposals or anything else that’s likely to affect locum staff in our specialist sectors, so please leave a comment below.

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