Top educationist questions philosophy of city academies‘
Sponsors have disproportionate influence, says Peter Mitchell
Government is confused between the need for a new school and the need for sponsorship’
HANDING over power to companies and institutions to run schools in return for a cash donation is unnecessary, according to the former chief of Camden’s schools.
Peter Mitchell, who headed up Camden’s education authority for five years and was the Town Hall’s first director of education when the department was established following the
dissolution of the Inner London Education Authority in 1989, gave a lecture on Tuesday to the Primrose Hill Community Association.
Mr Mitchell – a former headteacher at Quintin Kynaston school who has worked as an educational consultant since his retirement – revealed he had not been convinced by the government’s controversial academy schools plans.
His alma mater University College London is currently in talks with the Town Hall to build the borough’s first city academy on the site of the Frank Barnes school in Swiss Cottage.
He said: “I think the idea of addressing the needs of a community and schools that are less successful by investing in them is in essence a good one.
“But I fail to understand the sponsorship issue.
“I fail to see why they should have this
independence and why authorities give such powers to the sponsor. I just do not see why it is necessary.”
He said the massive influence the sponsor has on the new school’s direction was not warranted by the donation of £2 million – the government’s threshold for
private businesses to take on an academy.
In the UCL case this has been waived in recognition of the
educational resources it promises to invest in the new school.
Mr Mitchell said: “The bulk of the money is coming from government funding or private
“It should not necessitate the power handed on to the sponsors. I think the government is
confused between the need for a new school and the need for sponsorship. The power they get is not justified by the investment. The government puts in £25 million, the sponsor £2 million.
“The sponsor has a disproportionate amount of influence for their investment.”
“UCL is my old university. I know it well. They have been involved positively with the City and Islington college and I applaud their involvement in local education, but I am puzzled why they need to have the control over the future direction of the school they have.”
He praised the Town Hall’s education department, which has been under pressure for making UCL the only option available for a new school and has ignored growing pressure to establish a new council-run community school.
He said: “Camden is a highly successful
authority – one of the best in the country.”
He added that when he was at the Town Hall, he discussed at length with the then education chief Labour councillor Julian Fulbrook the need for a school in the south of the borough – a request that has been made to the current administration but which fell on deaf ears as it chose the Swiss Cottage site for the
He said: “We knew then there was a growing need for a secondary school in the south.”
He also recalled how when Camden’s education department was established and schools were given the option to opt out of local authority control, the omens for Camden schools did not look good.
He said: “It was the authority that the Evening Standard predicted would lose all its schools.
“They thought there would be a mass opt-out.”
In the end it was just two schools – La Sainte Union and the Jewish Free School – who opted out, and Mr Mitchell points out that they were unique in terms of their religious background.
He added: “This was decided by forces beyond our control.”