No A-level courses in Knowsley thanks to ‘academies’ system

Anti- academies march, London, 23.3.16 , photo  S Wrack

Anti- academies march, London, 23.3.16 , photo S Wrack   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Roger Bannister, Secretary, public sector union Unison, Knowsley branch (personal capacity)

Within a few weeks there will be no A-level provision in the borough of Knowsley, Merseyside.

This is a chilling portent of what will happen to education in working class areas if the Tories and Blairites are allowed to get away with turning council-run schools into ‘academies’ run by unaccountable private profiteers.

Halewood Academy has decided to end all A-level teaching, and send existing sixth formers to schools in neighbouring authorities. It was the last school in the borough offering A-levels.

Knowsley was the second most deprived borough in the country in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s 2015 ‘Indices of Multiple Deprivation’.

Almost 22% of the population is dependent on out-of-work benefits, according to the Department for Work and Pensions in August 2015. Actual youth unemployment is just below 30%. Knowsley is governed by a right-wing Labour group which controls every seat in the council chamber.

Of the six secondary schools in the borough, three are already academies, and another one is on the way.

Halewood was originally a ‘converter academy’, meaning it was not part of a chain. However, its results were so disastrous that it was in the process of becoming part of a ‘multi-academy trust’ (MAT).

During this time, Halewood’s outgoing governors decided to abandon A-level teaching. The MAT’s governors then slowed down the takeover so they didn’t have to take the flack.

The Times Educational Supplement could only find two other education authorities that have no A-level provision.

One is the City of London – a tiny, medieval relic in the centre of the capital, bordering the prosperous City of Westminster. The other is the Scilly Isles, whose population is less than 2,500, and has an arrangement with Cornwall for post-16 education.

Neither of these can be compared to an area like Knowsley with a predominantly working class population.

The Tories praise academies for ‘freeing’ schools from ‘bureaucratic’ local authority control. This is inaccurate propaganda.

In reality, council oversight has been significantly weakened since the Education Reform Act 1988. This introduced ‘local management of schools’ which scattered financial control among individual schools’ heads and governors.


As can be seen from the Knowsley disaster, wholly autonomous schools mean a total lack of borough-wide planning. Academy bosses take decisions on the basis of individual profitability, with no regard for the educational needs of the community as a whole. Local authorities are powerless to insist on any school offering a particular subject, or even maintaining sixth-form education.

The end result of this process will be that good, prestigious schools will flourish only in wealthy districts with well-heeled populations. Poor schools, offering inadequate provision, will be the norm in working class areas.

The fight against academisation is crucial, vital to defend educational opportunities for working class children.