There are 174 free schools open in the country and that rightly has been given a lot of attention. However, less attention has been paid to the 645 primary schools that have become sponsored academies. The figure was nil under Labour as the only sponsored academies were secondary schools. These primary schools were all achieving poor results and so have been obliged to be relaunched under new management – often with a new name and a new head.
At the Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane in Haringey, London (sponsored by the Harris Federation since September 2012) – 75 per cent of 6-year-olds this year passed the phonics check, up from 36 per cent in 2012, while in results for 11-year-olds, 78 per cent achieved the expected level in reading (up from 67 per cent) and 81 per cent managed that in maths (up from 69 per cent). Previously the school was called Downhills. The local Labour MP David Lammy fought a furious campaign to prevent these changes taking place.
At the Ryecroft Primary Academy in Bradford (sponsored by Northern Education Trust since September 2012) – 74 per cent of pupils achieved the expected level in the 3 Rs in 2013, up 48 percentage points. Labour-run Bradford Council resisted the change as the Labour councillor Cllr Ralph Berry made clear.
These are particularly impressive examples, but generally the sponsored primary academies saw their results improve by three percentage points last year compared with a general improvement of one percent.
The process is remorseless. The minimum standard that a primary school must reach to avoid being taken over rises each year. If the academy trust fails to bring about improvement over a reasonable period of time then they will be held to account and again the school put under new management. These were schools that we previously left to drift for years or even decades as failing schools, often using the excuse of deprivation. The extraordinary turnaround in the fortunes of so many of them is one of the Government’s proudest achievements – and the resistance routinely provided by trade unions, Labour MPs and Labour councillors an absolute disgrace.