Academies : Diversity, economism and contending forces for change
The focus of this chapter is the UK government’s academies programme in England and the contending forces that characterise this key policy aimed at bringing about transformational change in education. First, a brief outline is provided of the programme’s policy context, where the concern is to create more enterprising public institutions exposed to and involving new private players in education. Second, the academies programme is discussed, with particular attention being given to the developing pattern of sponsorship. Third, in the context of an emergent governance system of ‘plural controlled schooling’, two competing hypotheses are put forward: one suggesting that, despite an emphasis on innovation and diversity, academies tend to converge around an instrumentally driven, business-orientated model of entrepreneurialism and educational priorities; the second suggesting diversification, where meanings and practice show significant variations, including opportunities for progressive change. This second hypothesis looks for the degree to which new openings emerge in the programme, creating spaces for educational alternatives nurturing broader understandings of human potentiality and personal capacities for self-determination. The chapter concludes by drawing attention to the deficit in democratic accountability and the importance of the system’s underlying philosophy. It is also suggested that the academies programme is a policy arena of contending forces within the socialised sphere of relationships and that consequently there is scope to evolve it towards a model of social co-production for human educational needs rather than one of individualistic influence dominated by instrumental and business rationales.