By Donna Richardson

Government plans to forcefully convert all schools to academies by 2020 — or gaining a commitment to converting by 2022 — have been met with such fierce opposition from teachers across the country that they have now been forced to soften the pace. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne first announced in the Budget that schools in England will need to convert to academies and any schools that fall short of these requirements will be forced to do so by the government using radical new powers, thus ending the link between local authorities and schools established in 1902.

Education Minister Nicky Morgan, who at first supported the plans, has now backed down and is engaging in a new approach in the face of a wall of opposition from unions, teachers and parents.

Currently, all schools can choose to become academies, but those judged to be struggling or failing to improve are forced to convert to academy status. Under the proposed plans, all types of schools – unsuccessful or otherwise — would have had to make the switch, while Morgan’s newest stance rests on encouraging academy conversion.

Rise of the Academies

The academies policy was introduced by Labour to improve struggling schools, primarily in deprived areas. However, it only saw unprecedented growth and acceleration during the coalition years. Numbering just 203 in May 2010, of 3,381 secondary schools some 2,075 are now academies. Furthermore, 2,440 of 16,766 primary schools have attained academy status.

Academies in England are funded directly by the Department for Education (DfE) and operate independently of the local authority.

Like traditional schools, academies are subject to inspection by Ofsted, with those classed outstanding exempt from routine inspection. Regional School Commissioners introduced in 2014 to approve academy conversions are tasked with monitoring standards at academies and free schools in their areas. Eight regional commissioners each work with a small board of head teachers and act on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.

Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum, so long as they offer a broad and balanced subject range. Generally, the day-to-day operations for the school are managed by a head teacher or principal and are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts. These may also be part of an academy chain and provide advice, support, expertise and a strategic overview. They control their own admissions process and have more freedom to innovate.

Academies can also play a role in promoting industry and vocational skills. Indeed, there are some excellent examples of giants of industry sponsoring state schools and specialist colleges, such as the JCB Academy in Derbyshire.

A Case Study – JCB Academy

The JCB Academy based in Rochester, Staffordshire, has been directly affected by the reforms since its main offering is the Diploma of Engineering as a specialist school of engineering excellence, and the country’s first University Technical College (UTC).

The JCB Academy was set up in 2010 with a range of partners including JCB, Rolls-Royce, Network Rail and Toyota. They wanted to provide a range of technical qualifications for 14 – 19 year olds wishing to pursue a career in engineering and business. Its curriculum is based on a series of engineering challenges set by the business partners.

Every student in Year 11 takes Maths, English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, ICT, Business, D&T and German at GCSE together with the Engineering Diploma, which in itself accounts for 40 per cent of the curriculum time. Students at the Academy have shorter holidays and a longer working day more closely aligned to the world of work. This gives the time necessary to teach the Diploma and the range of compulsory extracurricular activities.

Students entering Year 12 take an Engineering or Business route, with the engineers currently studying the Advanced Engineering Diploma which is equivalent to 2.5 A Levels. A further 25 UTCs are planned across the country by Lord Baker under the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.

“No one can say that the Engineering Diploma was an easy way to get a string of GCSEs,” says David Bell, who is also the Chief Corporate Development Officer for JCB. “Engineering just does not lend itself to a typical GCSE which consists of two years of study and a two- hour final exam. It is about problem solving, and learning through making mistakes and continually improving your solution.

“Our results demonstrate that we have engaged our pupils. Most successful people are well-rounded – both academic and practical. We represent that balance”, said Mr Bell.

Mirroring a working day, school hours are from 8.30am until 5pm. The academic year is made up of five terms with each term having a different engineering or business challenge. “By integrating the GCSE subjects around an engineering challenge our goal is that students will never ask ‘why am I having to learn this?’ They have to learn their maths, sciences, ICT, business and English in order to solve and present their engineering solutions for the problem. They are fully engaged and the challenges take them into the real world with visits organised by our partners, including The London Eye for the hydraulics challenge, and the Rolls-Royce pump supplier for their design and build challenge. Every challenge includes a real life application,” he added.

One year 13 student who recently completed an Engineering Diploma, said: “One of the main things that I have learned from this course is how engineers tackle problems and how they are solved. An engineer believes that there is always a need for improvement in a product. I have found the course different from other traditional courses in that we are able to work with major companies. They have given us real life problems to solve. I feel from this that I have had a great insight into what engineering actually is.”

The Case For and Against Academies

The government argues that academies achieve higher standards by empowering head teachers with greater powers to control pay, length of the school day and even term times. Coupled with the freedom to innovate outside of the national curriculum, academies have also been shown to improve twice as fast as other state schools.

Yet MPs’ committees have criticised the academies programme for a lack of oversight, particularly stating finances and public accountability.

Teaching unions believe that “academisation” is a stealth way of privatising the school system, while the government argues it introduces innovation. They say that it is becoming clear is private providers that run large “chains” of schools have grown so much they have reached a point where they cannot cope. Therefore, the largest chains have been prevented from taking on any more schools. Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw criticised seven academy chains for failing to improve the results of pupils in their schools, while paying board members large salaries.

So What Next?

Taking into account the wide opposition to plans to change all schools to academies – not only from parents, teachers and unions but from Nicky Morgan’s own party — the Education Minister may have to reconsider their plans. Unions say that they are standing ready to engage in further talks to encourage co-operation with the education sector in a constructive way.




Teachers have a responsibility to teach their students about careers and guide them towards making decisions about how to enter the working world.Students have been known to be indecisive about careers, and with so many options in an ever-changing global economy, it’s difficult to know how to proceed.

From a young age, they change their minds often; today they want to be teachers, tomorrow they want to be doctors, and this continues even when they are adults, many of whom have not chosen a career by the time they need to embark on one — and then they often choose out of necessity.

This is unfortunate, because when one chooses a career out of necessity rather than out of passion, they may never give it their all (and the last thing we need is to raise and educate children that will grow to hate their careers!). With that being said, the most logical thing for us to do is to have teachers coach their students into finding out what exactly they are passionate about and lead them toward that particular career:

“It is true that all schools should have a trained career leaders and high-quality ones at that; but it would be much better and much easier for the students if they could count on their teachers on matters pertaining their careers because these classroom teachers spend more time with them and understand them much better and most importantly, these classroom teachers know exactly what these students are good at.”

Careers need to be discussed in our schools right from the primary level because teachers are poised to notice perhaps special gifts and talents among their students that could apply to the workforce. Teachers spend more time with younger students, so it is only natural that they take it upon themselves to guide them toward the right path. When students have an informed mindset about which career they might want to pursue, they can work with a sense of purpose and are better able to focus more in school. They have a goal they want to attain, and they’re motivated to reach it.

Many people have attributed their success to their teachers who introduced them to the passions and skills that helped them pursue a career. These teachers helped students figure out what they really wanted to do and motivated them to do it.

Teachers who give the beginnings of career education to their students go a long way to helping students be more decisive and informed about what they want to do when they get to a point of choosing their paths. They will have developed a passion and combined it with a specific part of the world in which they live — and this is exactly what we want for them.



There is a serious struggle among our British teachers when it comes to teaching about feminism and gender discrimination. Many teachers in the UK don’t want to approach these subjects because — let’s be honest — it can be a little difficult. How do you even start explaining to primary school students that we should not be sexist and that we should learn to appreciate the different genders and actually promote gender equality?

It’s not just at the primary school level that teachers find it difficult to teach about feminism, but also at the secondary level. The biggest part of the problem, however, is not that teachers struggle to teach feminism — it’s that the students they are trying to teach don’t even see or recognize gender inequality even when it is obvious, and their inability to see when gender inequality is being practiced in the school environment is the leading cause of sexism in our schools. But how are these students going to see sexism and how it happens when the teachers themselves don’t see it?

The truth is that matters pertaining gender equality and sexism are difficult to discuss, but someone needs to talk about it. Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the situation is not going to help anyone, much less our kids, to understand how wrong sexism is and how to eradicate it.

In most cases, sexism and discrimination against women sounds the alarm. For many years now, women have been on the receiving end of discrimination because of their gender — and even some women choose not to recognize it. Like history teaches us, the first step towards solving any problem is recognizing the fact that there is, indeed, a problem, and we cannot get past this issue of gender inequality unless we recognize it and strategise on how to tackle it head on.

Research shows that a whopping 57 percent of men who enter the job market straight from college negotiate for their first salary, while only 7 percent of women do so. This data shows that women systematically underestimate themselves. Why are they not negotiating for themselves in the job market, and how do we get them to advocate for themselves?

The only way we can put an end to sexism in the next generation is by teaching children at a young age that men and women are equal and neither group deserves to be discriminated against.  This will only happen if and when our teachers choose to recognize gender discrimination in our society, point them out for the students to see, and let the students know just how wrong it is. We need the next generation to be free of sexism and chauvinism and promote gender equality instead.

We also must teach children about feminism at a young age, letting them know what feminism is and why it is important for both boys and girls to fight for the rights of women in our society. Chimamanda Ngozi, a Nigerian writer and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, put it plainly when she said that we should all be feminists, and that process starts early in a child’s education.

Feminism in the eyes of many people is a controversial term, but we need to learn it, we need to understand it, we need to embrace it and most importantly, we need to teach our kids about it. A world where men and women can be free to be themselves without being looked down upon will is a better world. Let us raise these children and teach them that their ability as individuals is more important than their gender. Change in this sector starts with us and is passed on to students by their teachers. In a few years, we can have a society free of sexism in which we will never hear the mention of gender discrimination or gender bias again.



The United Kingdom’s higher education sector is in a temporary state of turmoil with a 48-hour strike that resulted from a rejected contract offer — but what does the strike and the possibility of future action mean for those looking for a job in education?


Members of the University and College Union have enacted a 48-hour strike action that involved up to 60,000 workers in universities across the UK. The move came as a result of stagnant pay and an offer to give a 1.1% pay rise that UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt called an “insult”:

 “A 1.1 per cent pay offer is an insult to hardworking staff, especially in light of the 5 per cent pay rise vice-chancellors have enjoyed while holding down staff pay.”

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association responded by saying that the 1.1% rise was both “fair and final,” and Paul Curran, the vice president of City University London and also the chair of UCEA, said that the offer was, “at, and for some beyond, a limit of affordability for higher education institutions and the very best offer that will be available this year.”

In response, the UCU organized a two-day walkout for May 25-26 that has thrown a wrench in the works of closing out the academic year. UCU, along with other unions, have suggested a broader strike action beginning in August if their demands aren’t met.


The mantra from the UCEA’s member institutions is that the strike had “no to low” impact on the operation of campuses. Despite fears that examinations and clearing may be disrupted by the walkout, the effects on the student experience appeared to be mild. The vast majority of teaching and exams have concluded throughout the UK, so there were few exceptions.

Until a resolution is reached, UCU members will be ‘working to contract,’ which means that they will abide strictly by the terms set in their hiring documents. They will not engage in overtime work, additional duties, or remain flexible to cover the duties of coworkers. Depending on members’ commitment, that may include non-compensated items traditionally understood to be part of the job, such as writing recommendations for and being consulted by students.

All sides, from UCEA to UCU and its supporters, will continue to try to push for an acceptable compromise. Right now, UCEA is refusing to budge, and the UCU appears prepared for a lengthy process of actions.


Students, however, may have something to worry about as the negotiations play out. Further actions could cause disruptions to activities that have yet to take place, such as graduation ceremonies and open days, but the real changes would come with possible actions for Autumn. Strikers have proposed a boycott of setting and marking student working with the opening of the Autumn term, which could potentially make academic life difficult for Britain’s students.

Courses that depend heavily on highly-structured progressions of learning — maths, science, engineering — would be the hardest hit if lecturers refuse to mark student work. Disciplines that lend themselves less to self-study could find both their students and teachers in difficult places after a resolution, with those effects (academic, labour-intensive, and otherwise) rippling throughout the entire academic year.

Students who work outside of school may be especially hurt by such disruptions. Inconsistencies with academics make it that much more difficult to accommodate part-time jobs.


Those looking to get a job within the higher education sector may need to exercise patience. As budget problems and industrial actions play out, hiring tends to slow, if not freeze entirely.

Budgets are delicate things, and hiring decisions impact budgets in significant ways. Even a 1.1% increase in personnel costs mean limitations on new hires without an influx of more money.

A lack of stability in the university-workforce relationship tends to push those making decisions about hiring volume to favour short-term solutions. Fixed-term or non-renewable contracts become more appealing without the baggage of permanent positions. The number of fixed-term contracts in UK universities has risen markedly over the last decade; that number will be fueled, in part, by perpetual labour actions.

This presents a bittersweet situation for job seekers — it opens up the ‘entry level’ lecturing market to those looking to break in, but it also drives down compensation for those workers and undermines long-term stability.


Unions want stable, well-compensated employment; institutions want their needs met by a workforce they can afford and plan around. That takes a long while to figure out, and in the end, usually neither party is happy.

The situation in the United Kingdom’s higher education sector mirrors that of large school districts in the United States. The financial crisis and the resulting Great Recession halted teacher pay rises and hiring almost uniformly nationwide; only recently have states and cities returned their education budgets to pre-recession levels.

Aside from districts like Chicago Public Schools, few have had to resort to strikes. The argument that years of flat pay ran counter to government commitments to boost schools proved compelling despite generating resistance from cash-strapped administrators, and now unions have largely begun to win contract improvements.

The Cameron government’s recent commitments to improving higher education may force concessions from universities. As UCU’s Sally Hunt argues, retaining Britain’s vaunted place in the international higher education community depends on workers. Hunt said:

“It’s time to invest properly in the teachers, researchers and administrators who are the backbone of our universities.

“Industrial action which impacts on students is never taken lightly, but members feel that they have been left with no alternative.

“If the employers wish to see a swift end to this dispute, and avoid further disruption, they need to come back to the table with a much-improved offer.”

Students and job seekers in the education sector should pay close attention to developments in negotiations, as the effects will be felt not only from primary schools to PhDs, but for budget- and goal-setting in years to come.