Labour’s city academies have been controversial since their inception. Billed as a way to rescue failing schools, they are essentially run on public money but controlled by sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups. Francis Beckett, a former NS education correspondent, is enraged by the government’s policy. The academies, he argues, have failed to deliver clear improvements in results, to reduce bullying or to regenerate areas with poor educational provision. Instead, they have led to segregation, disposed of good teachers and allowed sponsors – who often contribute negligible amounts of their own money – to hijack the curriculum for their own ends.
Two motives are suggested: one is a desire to revert to a split education system, with academies for bright pupils and vocational schools to equip future “worker bees of industry”; the other is a wish on the part of Blair covertly to promote his Christian views by encouraging religious sponsors.
Beckett has written a powerful indictment of new Labour’s cosy relationship with big business, in which expert advice that clashes with government policy is often ignored. The book can sometimes read like a personal crusade against the schools – yet, considering all the evidence, it doesn’t need to be.