Intersectional Barriers that maintain institutionalised racism and prevent community cohesion in schools

There is a general assumption that merely encouraging people to mix in an urban context will result in positive interaction and community cohesion (Hemming, 2011:65). This certainly does not work in a school context. Moreover, there are systemic and institutionalised barriers that prevent inclusion and multicultural community cohesion in schools in England. This section will identify significant barriers that impact community cohesion and integration within multicultural and disadvantaged, urban secondary schools in England.

Policy and Government

In 2013, the government institutionalised policies relating to community cohesion, which became a statutory duty for schools in England Jones (2013). However, there was a lack of policy framework available for long term community cohesion strategies (Engel, 2013). This gave schools the autonomy to set their own priorities and strategies relating to community cohesion (Engel, 2013). This has led to community cohesion policies being interpreted in different ways, depending on the school context and in some cases, even saw an increase in social segregation due to the interpretation of the broad guidelines. Some examples of poor interpretation of community cohesion policies that have a negative impact on learners are; Community cohesion policies being used as a platform for social advantage, where some ethnically diverse schools who sought to attract white middle class parents for a multicultural ‘experience’, without doing anything to combat social inequality actually contributed towards social segregation within their schools (Kirkham, 2016); schools failing to manage issues of diversity, identity and social cohesion (Rhamie, 2012); and ineffective induction and integration of migrants into the school population (Lumby, 2016).

On a macro level, policies that relate to community cohesion need to be clearly distinguished so the data is comparable and measured for their success (Runnymede, 2018). Community cohesion policies being driven by a minimalist interpretation of requirements (Wilkins, 2014) have not led to any changes in the functioning and daily realities of the school (Gillborn, 2008). This resulted in a legacy of community cohesion policies being a low priority on a micro level within the school. The success of community cohesion practices is now reliant on individual schools’ equality, diversity and inclusion policies and how these are implemented by the practitioners within the school (Engel, 2013).


Ofsted is a neutral professional body used to regulate care and education for young people (Mogra, 2016). In 2008, it began to inspect schools’ contribution towards community cohesion. The assessment criterion focusing on community cohesion was integrated into OFSTED school inspections. This only lasted until 2010, as it was decided by parliament that they will no longer inspect community cohesion (Engel, 2013). Instead, there is now a focus on how equality and diversity is implemented within the school.

The term ‘Community Cohesion’ has been removed in the latest Ofsted school inspection handbook, although practitioners still have the duty to promote community cohesion within their schools. The focus is now on equality and diversity for those with protected characteristics within the school and the wider community.

Wilkins’ (2014) study argues how Ofsted have failed to use performative accountability layers to address race equality issues. Recommendations were suggested for Ofsted to define inspections guidelines, restore their impartiality within educational matters (Mogra, 2016) and to revise the Ofsted guidance for inspection relating to equality and diversity (Wilkins, 2014) to cater more towards multicultural communities  

The Curriculum

The National Curriculum (NC) is a framework consisting of a range of subjects and assessment criteria used in primary and secondary schools to enable continuity (DfE,2018). It was introduced during the conservative administration, under Thatcher’s government. It is argued that schools are still influenced by neo-liberal discourse which has a negative impact on educational structures (Saltman, 2014). Similarly, Peters (2015: 643) identified that the curriculum is racialised as white was fundamental to the development of capitalism.  Neoliberal approaches to education have resulted in the reduction of a diverse curriculum (Saltman, 2014). This has resulted in a restrictive assessment and framework that does not meet the needs of all learners (Lumby, 2016)

There is currently a lack of anti-racist education – a program designed to eliminate the clarification of people based on skin colour (Peters, 2015) and culturally inclusive diet within the national learning activities within the NC, which is fundamental to combatting racist attitudes, consequently having a negative impact on Community Cohesion.

The NC is framed in an anglocentric perspective where ‘victors’ have written the history and defined the narrative (Richardson, 2007). Text books used to support topics within the curriculum are primarily written by white publishing companies such as NCS Pearson and McGraw Hill Education, who have been accused of normalising a white ethnocentric narrative (Saltman, 2014; Peters, 2015; Gillborn, 2008).

Extract from Mcgraw Education text book. Slave described as slaves as “workers” appears in a McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook.

For example, McGraw Hill Education have been recently accused of downplaying slavery by reinventing the narrative that African Slaves were ‘agricultural workers’, implying that they were migrants benefiting from the economy (Dart, 2015). This is an example of the ‘racial erasure’ described by Bain (2018:14) which includes the erasure of white racism within the curriculum by the elimination of non-white contributors and whitewashing atrocity.

Over 61% of secondary schools in England have become acadamised (Local Government Association, 2017), therefore they do not have to follow the NC. This gives Academies the potential to modernise the curriculum to reflect the global population of the school. This will eventually develop an inclusive ethos of learners understanding a range of different cultures that, in theory, will increase positive relations and community cohesion within the school. With a range of different cultural backgrounds and nationalities in England, it is essential for the curriculum to reflect global society and to relate to the increasing global audience.

The NC is content driven and is therefore harder to accommodate those from a BAME background (Lumby,2016). However, there have been changes in the NC as an attempt to reflect the changes in society. These changes are described as ‘tinkering’ by Hayden (2013) – used as ‘bolt-ons’ to the curriculum such as; citizenship (Pike, 2007); British Values agenda (Rhamie, 2012); and the controversial Prevent strategy (Alam, 2013) – all designed for BAME learners to assimilate to British ideals, rather than a dynamic reform to cater for the global community.

Hayden’s (2013), comprehensive review on the international school’s curriculum concluded that International schools could be used as a bench mark for a curriculum reform to reflect society and ensuring Global contributors are present in each subject. This is a long-term solution that needs to be made on a macro level for a dynamic and inclusive global curriculum to foster genuine positive community cohesion within the school environment. On a Micro level, Schools could integrate multiple perspectives to topics within the NC to make it more inclusive for BAME learners and examine the curriculum to ensure that whiteness is not the norm (by) which everything is measured (Lumby, 2016:117). 

Staff representation

There are various challenges associated with staffing that affect community cohesion within schools. When a school has predominantly white staff and white students, it tends to take longer for them to embed equality and diversity into all aspects of the school (Richardson, 2007); 20% of teachers employed in the most disadvantaged schools leave each year, as opposed to 15% of teachers within the least disadvantaged schools (Allen, 2018). Consequently, this leads to high staff turnover that impacts student attainment and any progress made towards cultural inclusion.

BGM teachers are vastly underrepresented as practitioners in all levels of education in the UK. Within a secondary school context, latest published Figures have revealed that only 6.9% are in a leadership position and 13.5% in teaching roles (DfE, 2016), including teaching and leadership positions (Lumby, 2016). Nationally, 30.3% of pupils are from a minority ethnic background (DfE, 2017). Correspondingly, there is a discrepancy between a large amount of BAME learners and a small amount of BAME teachers which is a concern, as BAME learners need BAME role models to break through the ‘concrete ceiling’ and challenge cultural negative stereotypes of BAME staff being in subordinate roles within schools (Lumby, 2007). This is due to poor retention rates and the lack of BAME teachers joining the profession (Wilkins, 2014).

On the contrary, from a macro perspective it may be perceived as problematic if the ratios of BAME staff did reflect BAME students, due to the threat of minorities representing a challenge to majority traditional values within a Neoliberal framework that has been designed to sustain inequality (Gillborn, 2008; Mogra, 2016).

Residential Segregation

New migrants are often sent to community housing and developing migrant hotspots that are predominantly located within disadvantaged, working-class communities (Finney, 2009).  During 2017 there was an increased level of migration into Europe and a growth in BAME learners who now equate to 32.1% of pupils in Primary schools and 29.1% in secondary schools in England (DfE, 2017). This has had a direct impact on school choice and has increased the influence of ‘white flight’, a term used by Hemming (2011) where white parents opt out of schools that have a high population of migrant children and children with EAL (Lumby, 2016). 

This has resulted in schools that have a large cohort of EAL students and migrants being viewed as undesirable, whilst mono-ethnic schools with a high white population have become oversubscribed as discussed by Lumby (2016). In some cases, schools have the opportunity to select the highest attainers, further discriminating against migrants and this has a clear negative impact on community cohesion (Lumby, 2016)

However, some schools are now promoting multiculturalism as ‘commodity or beneficial resource’ (Kirkham, 2016: 385). Kirkham (2016) investigates the multiculturalism trend and researches a school, that actively seeks to track white middle-class parents who want a diverse multicultural education to gain a reality of the future of living as global citizens.

Social economic

Class and race are intersecting characteristics that influence community cohesion. In the previous section, we discussed how and when the BAME school population increases, the white middle-class population decreases (Keddie, 2014). Therefore, migrant learners are often segregated with children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Runnymede, 2018; Lumby, 2016).

Social economic background is another barrier that impacts positive relationships and cohesion in areas that have long term unemployment and have a high risk of economic marginalisation and social exclusion (Flint, 2008).

Mcghee (2006) argues that community cohesion strategies outlined by government focus on the improvement of race inequality and integration of new migrants, which has taken precedence over, and excludes, existing white disadvantaged host communities in England. Subsequently, causing hostility that negatively impacts community cohesion. As a result, schools are at risk of concentrating solely on ethnic diversity and excluding class diversity (Kirkham, 2016), this is where tensions between schools and beliefs of parents could clash causing social segregation. 

To improve this injustice, Lumby (2016:61) suggests how schools can start to analyse the degree to which segregation by socioeconomic class and other intersecting characteristics are present in the school. This would be a suitable start to devise a long-term solution for positive community cohesion.

2.5 Summary and Emerging Issues

To conclude this section, the study of literature relating to institutionalised barriers relating to community cohesion has revealed that:

Macro Level

  • Historically, the political system in England maintains the power and resources that has a rhetoric of ‘white ignorance’ that contributes to white benefit and non-white disadvantage (Bain, 2018:10), therefore it was not designed to support multicultural England.
  • Government initiatives focused on community cohesion and inclusion have ultimately led to intersecting systematic inequalities that has compromised policies designed to integrate multicultural communities.
  • Policies designed to manage Multicultural communities within schools have been subject to interpretation of the policies that have a colour-blind undertone (Lumby, 2008), concealed under the veneer of government requirements. 

Micro Level

  • Schools need to create more opportunities that aid community cohesion and positive relationships between different cultural groups and need to further investigate equality, diversity and social justice within secondary education.
  • Barriers: to community cohesion within the school include lack of framework from the government, (Runnymede, 2018; Gillborn, 2008 the removal of community cohesion in the Ofsted assessment framework (Mogra, 2016; Wilkins, 2014); anglocentric colour-blind curriculum within schools (Lumby, 2016), under-representation of BAME staff (Richardson, 2007) , issues relating to residential segregation within inner city areas (Kirkham, 2016) and social economic marginalisation (Richardson, 2007).
  • A cultural approach within schools, by focusing on equality and diversity that will result in positive community cohesion, so all community groups are supported within schools (Lumby, 2016).

(All citations can be found in the bibliography)

Multicultural Britain: Assimilation, Community Cohesion and Discriminatory Policies

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2.2 History of Multicultural Britain


Britain has always been ethnically diverse. As early as C100BC, during Roman rule, African auxiliary soldiers featured in the Roman army protecting Hadrian’s Wall (Dabydeen et al, 2007). Ethnic diversity began to increase in England during the expansion of the British Empire.  This expansion resulted in colonial warfare, including the exploitation, murder and human trafficking of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade from 1562 – 1833 (Williams, 2005; Eddo Lodge, 2017; Gillborn, 2008). The colonised countries under the British Empire were used to substantiate Britain’s power and wealth; the leading nation in comparison to her international counterparts (Paul, 1997).

During the First World War, 15,600 African / African-Caribbean soldiers and over 74,000 Indian soldiers from British Colonies died in the conflict, many serving under the false promise of political reform and freedom from colonial rule in their countries (Eddo-Lodge, 2017). Consequently, the BAME population increased in Britain to around 10,000 under the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, which gave Black and Asian colonial migrants the same rights as ‘natural born citizens’ Dabydeen et al, 2007:176). However, this was contradicted by military law that classed all non-whites as ‘aliens’, presenting racialized barriers and restrictions, which caused race fuelled riots against the Black presence in Britain in 1919 (Eddo-Lodge, 2017; Dabydeen et al, 2007; Belchem, 2014; Paul, 2007).

Due to larger economic and political objectives, the decolonisation of the British Empire began post Second World War (Paul, 1997; Belchem, 2014). The British Immigration act was passed in 1948, the same year that 492 Black Caribbeans travelling on the Windrush docked in Essex, England with the aim of restoring post-war Britain (Eddo Lodge, 2017). This was the introduction of ‘mass immigration’, where 1.2 million New Commonwealth citizens of British colonised commonwealth states immigrated to England and Wales between 1948 until the mid-1970’s (Mason, 2003).

The term immigrant was used to define the ‘already settled population as homogenous’ post Second Word War (Mason 2003:16). Whilst some countries were discussing making ‘immigrants’ citizens, Britain was doing the reverse (Paul, 1997). However, these immigrants were essentially colonial migrants with the rights to gain British Citizenship, regardless of where they resided within the empire (Thorns, 2002; Paul, 2007; Dabydeen et al, 2007). Most of the migrants were black and brown, mainly from African and South Asian descent. Due to the ‘unrecognisable’ differences and intersections of different characteristics such as languages, culture and religion, these people of ‘colour’ were labelled as ‘ethnically different’ in comparison to their white counterparts (Mason, 2003). This was the strategy used to preserve white British purity and, as a result, colonial migrants were ignored and excluded from parts of society (Myers, 2016:17).

In 1962 and 1968 the Commonwealth Immigration act was introduced with the aim of limiting the immigration of Black and Asian colonial migrants into Britain. This coincided with widespread practice in British schools of labelling black children as educationally sub normal in comparison to their white counterparts, leading to the systematic failing of black children within the British Educational system. (Richardson, 2007; Gillborn, 2008)

Migration into the UK has had its trials and tribulations for BAME communities, due to racialized policies designed to contain and preserve the whiteness in host communities (Gillborn, 2008). This presents a problem as the policies designed to ‘contain’ were of the same government that designed the policies to integrate multicultural communities within our schools. This is discussed further in the next section.

2.3 Race and Education Policy

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To understand how community cohesion policies were introduced by the government and how they have impacted our school, it is important to understand the history of how government policy discourse has reacted to the change in multicultural demographics post 1970 in the UK, and how it has become progressively obsessed with the social control of BAME communities (Gillborn, 2008).



Image result for white class black child

Assimilation policies were introduced around the same time as the introduction of major immigration laws in the UK in 1965. Assimilation policies introduced in the UK were the act of denying cultural difference, as it was deemed that Black culture and beliefs were inferior compared to their white counterparts (Lumby, 2007). Consequently, this created a racialized structure of hierarchy that re-enforced white European superiority over migrants from BAME heritages (Paul 2007).

It has been suggested that the assimilation process could have been hindered by migrants unwilling to invest in the country based on their temporary status within it (Demireva, 2011). This might have been accurate for a handful of cases, however, the general attitude from the government and society during this time was to promote assimilation and the eradication of cultural differences (Gillborn, 2008). This has had a direct impact on education as BAME children, in particular, Black Caribbean children were the subject of systematic discrimination and failed by the British Educational system (Richardson, 2007; Gillborn, 2008). Many children of African Caribbean heritage were the labeled ‘educationally subnormal’, and thus were excluded from mainstream schools (Richardson, 2007).



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Integration was assimilation by a new name (Gillborn, 2008:). Educational policies which deemed ‘minorities’ as a problem, remained to serve the main objective of assimilating BAME groups (Gillborn, 2008).  In 1971, the Immigration Act was passed, influenced by racist attitudes in society (Dabydeen, 2007; Finney, 2009).


This resulted in anti-immigration activities, supported by political groups, causing thousands of racial attacks and cases of racial harassment against Black and Asian people (Dabydeen, 2007). Within the school context, the onus was on BAME pupils to integrate with the majority, with little or no intervention and guidance provided on a macro or micro level, as stated by Eric Bolton, the Chief inspector of schools at the time (Gillborn, 2008). Subsequently, BAME students were isolated both within the classroom and wider society.



Image result for multiculturalism

Multiculturalism policy programmes were designed as a ‘solution’ to support cultural differences and remove discriminatory barriers for migrants and BAME communities (Fleras, 2009). These were first introduced in the early 1980s and went through many revisions under different political parties; from the introduction of colour-blind policies under Thatcherism to the highlighting of the inequalities associated with BAME learners under the New Labour administration in 2007 (Gillborn, 2008). Post-9/11, there was widespread criticism of policies relating to Multiculturalism, which led to the concept’s demise (Heath, 2014). Flares (2009) discussed that multiculturalism policies were another method of control, a political tool where the “ruling elites, control the ‘unruly ethnics’”. Consequently, it presented tokenistic recognition towards BAME, but ultimately marginalised migrants further with neutral, colour-blind policies (Belchem, 2014).  Whereas, Health’s (2014) study into multiculturalism concluded that ethnoreligious groups made successful claims of ethnic integration during the multiculturalism era, despite the negative rhetoric associated with the policy.


Community Cohesion

Image result for bradford riots

Community cohesion was a political concept that replaced the multiculturalism agenda and entered mainstream national policy (Flint, 2008; Rhamie, 2012). The policy emerged in 2001-02 under the Labour government (Jones, 2013) and made a shift from integration back to assimilating to the host community (Samad 2013). Over the years, the term has been institutionalised in the UK through policy and statutory duties in schools (Jones, 2013:4). The policy was introduced after the racial disturbances in Northern British cities in 2001 (Rhamie, 2012; Alam, 2013; Samad, 2013) and the London bombings in 2005 as a strategy to integrate Muslims into the community (Rhamie, 2012; Samad, 2013:273). However, as discussed by (Jones, 2013), the policy was framed as if the main focus was issues relating to segregation and separation between cultures.

The term community cohesion lacked conceptual clarity (Jones, 2013). Subsequently, there have been many interpretations of the term as the policy has changed over time. To add to the ambiguity of community cohesion, the PREVENT strategy was introduced around the same time. This was a strategy that was focused on counter-terrorism and extremism Samad (2013). This was separate from the community cohesion agenda; however, the agenda targeted the same communities using the same professionals across the two programmes inside and outside of the classroom Samad (2013). This gave community cohesion a negative connotation within BAME communities. Conversely, Mcghee (2006) discusses that the community cohesion strategies, which focused on the improvement of race inequality and integration of new migrants, took precedence over and excluded existing white disadvantaged host communities in England, subsequently causing hostility that negatively impacts community cohesion.

Looking through the lens of the government, the Community Cohesion policy was an attempt to help support people to take individual responsibility to make the right choices and nurture an environment where different cultures interact with each other. It was hoped that this would result in positive inter-cultural relationships and contributions towards society both for individual benefit and the overall social good (Jones, 2013). However, the policy was based on ideology rather than being evidence-based (Flint, 2008).  The ambiguity of the language and terminology interchanging between race and class has resulted in fragmentation, which served to reinforce the hierarchical institutionalised narrative that has prioritised white nationals over BAME communities.


Current situation


Despite the number of immigrants into Britain steadily decreasing every year since 2015, (a reduction of 25,000 immigrants and an increase of 40,000 emigrants (Office for National Statistics, 2017; Finney, 2009), major concerns about immigration remain, creating a new, national fear of the re-emergence of the ‘multiculturalism identity’. This has been used as political rhetoric relating to multiculturalism and controls on immigration have been personified in the latest political campaigns from Conservative and Labour governments (Eddo lodge, 2017). This ‘fear’ was used in Brexit anti-immigration rhetoric from the middle right wing and political parties using statements such as ‘preserving our national identity’ (Eddo Lodge, 2017:119). This public and policy discourse has impacted migrants and BAME children in school, as some teachers have started to raise concerns about students who have failed to assimilate to British culture (Keddie, 2014).


According to Lord Ashcroft (2016) voting polls of how people voted during the EU referendum, 80% of voters who believed that multiculturalism and immigration were a burden to society voted to leave the European Union. Consequently, there has been a 53% increase in race-related hate crime in UK schools (Camden, 2017). This has resulted in BAME learners being more likely to experience racist bullying than their white counterparts (Bain, 2018). With such an increase, a focus on integration and community cohesion is more important than ever.




As discussed by Gillborn (2008), policymakers seem to have amnesia as policies are reincarnated. Policies have been reactionary, influenced by events related to race and integration and there is the likelihood that, as revised policies are reintroduced, there will be a focus on assimilation and integration in reaction to Brexit. Since the 1950s, the government has failed to place equality and diversity at the center of social and educational policy (Gillborn, 2008). This has highlighted a serious issue relating to equality, diversity and community cohesion within schools in the UK and so it is unsurprising that there is a demand for a new dynamic cohesion strategy in schools and communities that better reflects the global community in England.


Black History Month: It’s time to change our approach

Catherine Millan delivering a Black History workshop at Oasis Media CityUK

The appalling events at St Winefride’s Catholic primary school , where teachers asked children to dress as slaves as part of a Black History Month celebrations is more evidence that we need a new dynamic approach teaching Black History in our schools.

I am a passionate activist for a balanced global curriculum that is inclusive for all learners. As it currently stands, the Black Global Majority student population has continued to increase annually with an increase from 27.9% to 29.1% between 2016 and 2017, yet the national curriculum still takes a colourblind approach when dealing with global topics and issues (Demie, 2005).

There is a need for curricula that addresses the specific histories and cultures of racially marginalised students as discussed by Chikkatur (2013). Without the contributions of Black and Global Majority citizens, this country would not be the Great Britain as we know it today.  It is up to us to take a stance to introduce Black History and its contributions into our curriculum on a micro, meso and macro level. It is important to make curriculum links with Black and Global Majority inventors, scientists, civilisations etc, as various studies have found that it will help students to raise their aspirations and understand the background and development of our diverse society (King, 2016; Martell, 2014; Richardson, 2007). A good time to introduce this would be during Black History Month.

This year we used the amazing Catherine Millan from the University of Manchester, who delivered a workshop for young people and teachers about Black History Month and why it exists. Catherine has lots of experience in anti-racist work, having previously created a teaching pack with the Anthony Walker Foundation.

You can contact Catherine directly at

Chikkatur, A., 2013. Teaching and learning African American history in a multiracial classroom. Theory & Research in Social Education41(4), pp.514-534.

Demie, F., 2005. Achievement of Black Caribbean pupils: good practice in Lambeth schools. British Educational Research Journal31(4), pp.481-508.

King, L.J., 2016. Teaching black history as a racial literacy project. Race Ethnicity and Education19(6), pp.1303-1318.

Martell, C.C., 2013. Race and histories: Examining culturally relevant teaching in the US history classroom. Theory & Research in Social Education41(1), pp.65-88.

Richardson, B. ed., 2007. Tell it like it is: How our schools fail Black children. Bookmarks.

Profits before Pupils? Academisation of Secondary Schools


The Government continuously lead educational change with the recurring rhetoric of autonomy and accountability. The academisation of English Local Education Authority (LEAs) secondary schools, influenced by neoliberal ideology rooted in education, (Saltman, 2014) is presented as a solution to increase educational outcomes and economic competitiveness (Bhattacharya, 2013).

This assignment argues that the educational change propelled by the Government (academisation), has subjected school leaders to a version of constrained autonomy which has been overshadowed by maximum accountability (DfE, 2010a). This paradoxical combination has resulted in additional pressure and challenges for school leaders which has ultimately resulted in social segregation and school leaders taking extreme measures to adhere to the policy, becoming actors serving a neoliberal society.

This paper investigates the policy rhetoric of ‘increased’ autonomy in relation to academisation. It also examines the impact and implications of increased autonomy and accountability on a macro, meso and micro level (Mcginity, 2015); and issues of social segregation caused by the academisation structure. It concludes by exploring issues relating to accountability and focusing on the impact of the national funding cuts in education and increased pressure through inspections and league tables, which have ultimately led to cases of school leaders taking drastic action to fulfil neoliberal quantifiable outcomes (Saltman, 2014).



The fear of England trailing behind its global competitors in educational achievements has led to a rapid expansion of academies in the English secondary school system (Francis, 2015). In 2010, the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, announced that all underachieving secondary schools would be converted into academies. This was stated in the 2010 education reform under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government (DfE 2010a), with the vision of forced academisation of all Local Education Authority (LEA) schools by the year 2022 (DfE, 2016a; 2016b; McInerney, 2016). Academies fit into a neoliberal educational structure, that focuses on a corporate business approaches to achieve educational outcomes (Saltman, 2014).

The 2010 white paper outlines that this process will;

‘Increase freedom and autonomy for all schools, removing unnecessary duties and burdens, and allowing all schools to choose for themselves how best to develop.’ (DfE, 2010a:12)

‘… strengthen the performance measures we use to hold schools accountable.’ (DfE, 2010a:4)

Subsequently, the leaders of academy schools are granted increased autonomy and accountability, with the initial motive of combating underachievement and closing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students Gorard (2014) However, there is evidence that school leaders have been restricted to Government regulations therefore autonomy has become ‘contained and constrained’ (Keddie, 2015:6), presenting local actors leading academies in a precarious position. As discussed by Keddie (2015), the combination of increased autotomy and accountability has increased the performance targets, the achievement of which is fundamental for a school’s reputation. Consequently, there has been a rise in social segregation and inequality, as private actors are more likely to select schools and students from a high social economic background to adhere to those neoliberal targets set by the Government. This therefore increases the poverty gap that academy schools were initially designed to resolve (Gorard, 2014; West, 2014). The Academy act (DfE 2010a) was a part of a long-term vision of England competing economically in the global marketplace (Francis, 2015). However, there is of the lack of evidence to support the success of this educational reform (Mcginity. 2015).

The overall aim of this assignment is to critically analyse both the Government, who are leading educational change through academisation, and how these changes impact local actors. Specifically, it will explore issues regarding the increased autonomy and accountability related to academisation. The first section will present a brief history into the Government’s agenda concerning academies and how this has led educational change, along with the associated implications of such changes. It will then investigate issues relating to increased autonomy after the academisation relating to macro, meso and micro positions (Mcginity 2015). It will particularly focus on Sponsored and Converter academies and the relationship of autonomy between private and local actors. Finally, it will analyse the implications associated with the increased accountabilities and pressures set by the Government for any academy school to become sustainable.


Educational Change: Academies

Brief History

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Politicians in England are renowned for replicating successful policies and reforms across the world with the aim of achieving similar outcomes (Harris, 2009). Academies are an example of a neoliberal instilled reform, replicated in English education, as a solution to raising attainment and educational outcomes in underperforming schools (Purcell, 2011). The academisation of LEA schools in England has similar characteristics to the privatisation of schools in the USA and Sweden (Francis, 2015; Salokangas, 2014). Charter schools, for example, are a product of a neoliberal logic (Wermke, 2015), and a corporate approach which is focused on competition and privatisation (Saltman, 2014).

The introduction of neoliberal objectives into English Education began in the 1970’s under the Conservative administration lead by Margaret Thatcher (Glatter, 2012). This new approach was a direct response to the high amount of control that LEAs were perceived to have in education. Neoliberal objectives aimed to redistribute control of the budget and give autonomy back to schools (Higham, 2013). In 1988 schools became more autonomous when they were given the power to manage their own budgets and perform the functional tasks associated to operating a school (Higham, 2013). The Conservative party introduced autonomy as a neoliberal policy agenda for improvement, modelled on the success of US charter schools (Bhattacharya, 2013). Subsequently, the privatisation of education was introduced, as businesses began sponsoring schools (Gunter and McGinity, 2014; McGinity, 2015). New school models emerged such as; Local Management Schools, City Technical Collages (Walford, 2014) and Special schools.

In 2000, during the following Labour party administration, ‘Mark I’ City academy independent schools were introduced (Courtney, 2015c:808), in the form of a pilot scheme designed to raise achievement within inner city disadvantaged schools. School leaders now possessed greater freedom and increased agency through ‘corporatized autonomy’ (Courtney, 2015c:800) when compared to the constraints of LEA control. Between 2002 –2006, the second phase of academies (Mark II)­ were introduced (Courtney, 2015c). Subsequently, ‘City Academies’ were remediated to ‘academies’ (HM Gov, 2002) where the scheme was implemented outside of the cities (Walford, 2014). Now all schools had the opportunity to convert to academies, shifting the focus away from disadvantaged inner city schools (Woods et al, 2014).  And towards increased accountability (Keddie, 2015) and autonomy McGinity (2015) for all schools. This led to a change in structure and the development of Mark III academies, as outlined in the 2010 Academy Act (DfE, 2010). The Act was passed by a coalition Government with the intention of giving academies increased autonomy by liberating them from the LEAs (Keddie, 2015).



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The academy programme has had mixed success throughout the different phases (Chapman, 2013). Conversely, scholars have reported that academies are an example of a ‘political fault’ West (2014:63), where unrealistic timelines were set to improve failing schools through academisation (Francis, 2015, Glatter, 2012). Consequently, LEA schools were outperforming academies. Data published by the Local Government Association (2017a; 2017b) and the BBC (2017a) report that 91% LEA schools are Ofsted graded ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ compared to just 85% of academies (Chapman, 2013). The Government have made it difficult to scrutinise academies (Gunter et al, 2010), subsequently, they now appeared to apply a bias towards only attributing academy type schools as successful (Gunter and McGinity, 2014; Morris, 2011). This has led to opposition from the Local Government Association, who argue for the Government to remove bureaucratic barriers to enable LEA schools to become an educational improvement partner (BBC, 2017a).

A report from the Academies Commission (2013:35) states that ‘underachievement maps closely on to social inequality’. This is an ongoing issue relating to England’s education system that has not been addressed sufficiently. In 2005, Gorard (2005:376), investigated the pilot scheme city academies programme and argued that educational changes made to address social segregation is superficial and should ‘logically mean an end to the academy itself’. This report emphasises issues of social segregation that are still present in academy schools today Gorard (2014).


Autonomy and Accountability

Macro (large-scale; overall). Government


As noted in the previous section, freedom and autonomy have been the dominant rhetoric of the Government in leading educational change (Glatter, 2012) and were a key supporting argument to justify the implementation of the Academies Act 2010 (Salokangas, 2014; DfE, 2010a).  Adopting a similar position, Machin (2011) maintains that schools with greater autonomy have an increase in educational outcomes. As schools became more autonomous, there was the expectation that educational outcomes would improve. Subsequently, academies are now in the position to control both their own budgets and daily management (Courtney and Gunter, 2015a).

Paradoxically, despite increased autonomy, school leaders must still conform to Government requirements, through national inspection via the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the pressure to perform well against other schools (Higham, 2013:703; Muijis et al, 2008) The Government ultimately defines the aims and purposes of how academies operate, this has been characterized as Criteria power as discussed by Higham (2013) and ‘Control’ by Woods et al (2014:325). This presents a cliché in the form of a ‘controlled decontrol’ scenario (Francis, 2015:438), where local actors function with assumed notions of autonomy. Lewis and Murphy (2008:135 – 6) describe school leaders as being more like ‘branch managers than CEO’s’, and they are described as ‘local managers’ by Courtney (2015a: 396) further suggesting that autonomy is ‘institutionalised’ Bhattacharya (2015:95) therefore constrained by the Government (Glatter, 2012).


Meso (middle; intermediate) Academisation

Operational Power


Post academisation, school leaders benefit from increased autonomy and additional freedom in approaching the functional tasks of operating an academy. This is a significant change compared to the constraints presented by the preceding LEAs.  Typical functional tasks include, customising the curriculum, agency, pedagogy and new freedoms to act in compliance with the academies financial handbook and recruit an effective team of teachers and leaders to hit the attainment targets set by the Government through educational policy documents (The Academies Commission, 2013; Papanastasiou, 2017; Education Funding Agency, 2016).  This is an example of Operational Power (Higham 2013), discussed by Fidler et al (2007).

The Academies Commission (2013) argues that educational leaders need to be focused on education, training and development for autonomy to be beneficial. It also states that a long and short term improvement plan is necessary to increase educational outcomes. Expanding networks by collaborating with other schools is essential in order to become autonomous.

It is also vital for school leaders to investigate all aspects of educational leadership, especially critical and socially critical routes, illustrated by Gunter et al (2013). This is due to the increase of social segregation that negatively impacts learners from a lower social economic background, an inadvertence relating to the increase in autonomy as discussed by McGinity (2015).



Sponsored Academies

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In England, only schools with academy status are entitled to sponsor underperforming schools that are eligible for intervention (BBC, 2017a; Jacobson,  2017; Gunter and McGinity, 2014). Academy sponsors are funded by the Government with the purpose of ‘leveraging money from state education budget into the private sector’ (Beckett, 2010: xxii).  Therefore, declaration that a LEA school is a failure is essential to the academisation process (Saltman, 2014). Sponsored academies reside in a middle tier of hierarchy, described as ‘the area between the Government and schools’ by Woods et al (2014) illustrated in Gunter and Mcginity, (2014:305) summary of politics conversion process.

Academy sponsors that have multiple schools in their portfolio are known as academy chains. These chains have recently been scrutinised for their focus of expanding in order to increase profit rather than to improve the schools within their portfolio (Bhattacharya, 2013; Academies commission, 2013).  In relation to their governance, academies do have controlled power and autonomy (Keddie, 2015). However, the governed control resides with the central governance of an academy sponsor; this presents complexity to the level of autonomy that is distributed to educational leaders.

Salokangas (2014) established that academy chains are heavily influenced by sponsors through a centralised policy which is distributed by a hierarchal top down structure. Funding and resources are shared between academies within the chain, further constraining the amount of control a school leader maintains. Conversely, Glatter (2012) argues that school leaders should focus solely on educational matters to prevent a role overload associated with autonomy. Justifiably, this could be manipulated as Criteria control (Higham, 2013) by private actors to implement constrained autonomy. However, this could benefit newly appointed school leaders as some may not have the sufficient skills to implement the freedoms and autonomy associated with academy schools (Academies commission, 2013). Papanastasiou (2017) research concludes that policy actors construct boundaries which limit the agency of school leaders. Correspondingly, an example of a limited agency is discussed by Salokangas (2014:380) is the notion of ‘earned autonomy’, where higher performing academies have increased autonomy from the academy sponsor.  Underachieving schools have an increased presence from private actors, resulting in ‘restricted control’. This further magnifies the business like, corporate agenda associated with neoliberalism in education (Gunter, 2010).



Converter Academies

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Schools that are graded either ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ via Ofsted, are invited or volunteered by the governing body of a school to become a ‘converter’ academy (Jacobson, 2017; Gunter and McGinity, 2014).  Converting schools were enticed by the freedom associated with the increased autonomy of academy status and initial financial incentives. Abrams (2012) reports that newly converted academy schools were promised a cash incentive of up to half a million pounds per year by the newly formed Coalition Government. This incentive was cut in 2012.

Schools converting into academies have different levels of autonomy dependant on the type of school they were prior to conversion (Machin, 2011). Mcginity’s (2015) single case study of a secondary school undergoing conversion into an academy has confirmed that during the early stages of the academies programme, schools undergoing academisation had more autonomy to manipulate organisational structures in accordance with the 2010 academy act.

Image result for rich vs poorThere are increasing concerns that some converter academies are selecting schools in areas that have a higher social economic status, due to demographic change which could potentially alter the school’s performance. They therefore avoid lower social economic areas such as those which have a high population of social housing, an indicator of poverty (Bhattacharya, 2013; Gorard, 2014; Wermke, 2015; West, 2014; Waldfogel, 2010). Learners from a poor social economic background have lower educational outcomes than those from a more economically privileged background (Lumby, 2016). Thus, avoiding these areas contradicts the sole practical and ideological purpose of academies, namely to close the gap in achievement between average students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds (Purcell, 2011, Francis 2015, Gorard, 2014). This is an unintended consequence of budget cuts, increased autonomy and accountability.

This has become a part of the educational discourse, identified within the written submission text under Ulterior motives and risks of social segregation, where some Converter Academies compete for the best students based on achievement (Francis, 2015:441).  With the increase in autonomy and accountability, school collaboration is a sustainable alternative to combat issues of social segregation in Sponsored and Converter academies (Keddie, 2015; Higham, 2013). Expanding school networks can reduce the pressures related to autonomy from local competition.


Micro (Local level)Accountability

High Stakes

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At the time of writing, school leaders now have tighter constrained governed autonomy due to national budget cuts in education. The Government has planned to save 600 million pounds from the education service grant, this has been justified by making schools ‘realise their efficiencies’ (DfE, 2015). Higham’s (2013) research highlights that funding cuts are a common challenge in relation to accountability. Consequently, 53% of single academy trusts in England are not making enough money to cover their annual expenditure (DfE 2016e. BBC news, 2017b).  DfE (2016e) expenditure report states that contingency funds were available to settle the deposit. However, established academies now must become sustainable, ensuring that the deposit is reduced. Further issues have arisen affecting school leaders of academies, as the Government has withdrawn plans of converting all school into academies (BBC, 2017c). Instead, the Government has a new agenda outlined in the Autumn Statement (H M Treasury, 2016) investing £50 million of funding supporting the controversial expansion of grammar schools to support the gifted and the talented students.

The budget cuts in education have resulted in some academies putting in a process of cost saving. Most of the school autonomy in Government policies relates back to finance. An example of this is the manifestation of a procurement plan to manage school funding (DfE, 2016d) which contributes towards a school becoming more efficient and ‘autonomous’. Academies are now pressured to become frugal. This has led to some schools restructuring the curriculum, (leading to the discontinuance of non EBacc subjects), reducing the number of school timetable hours, and in extreme cases, the dismissal of school practitioners (BBC, 2017d. BBC, 2017e).



Pros and Cons

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As autonomy is increased, the rate of accountability is also escalated (Keddie, 2015; Salokangas, 2014), resulting in new complications and challenges for schools (Keddie, 2015). Saltman (2014) discusses the neoliberal emphasis of educational outcomes in the United States. Consequently, social segregation and the reduction of the curriculum have occurred during the privatisation of public schools into charter schools. A similar narrative has occurred during the academisation process of secondary schools in England. Since the 2010 Academies Act,  educational leaders now have increased accountability through a number of means; rigorous assessment frameworks and inspections (Woods et al, 2014); increased performance management criteria (Salokangas, 2014); increased pupil attainment outcomes to compete with National league tables regulated by inspections via Ofsted (Muijs et al, 2008; Keddie, 2015);  and new performance measures with Progress 8 and Attainment 8 metric grading systems and the associated Government attainment benchmarks. These challenges are now normative for academy type schools, as they are required to adhere to the demands of neoliberal performance outcomes (Lumby, 2016) set by the Government (Purcell, 2011).

The challenges to boost learner numbers are essential for any academy to maintain a viable position. Government funding for existing academies has been reliant on a school census whilst new academies are based on learner number predictions. Schools are funded with an average allocation of 6000 GBP per student (DfE 2016f; DfE 2017a), which is fundamental for a school to become sustainable. With the increase of autonomy, academies have more control of the admissions. As mentioned earlier, some academies have been targeting pupils from a ‘higher class’ to contribute towards their attainment outcomes, consequently discriminating pupils based on ethnicity and social demographics and thus further contributing towards divisions in society (Lumby, 2016; Keddie 2015).

Some schools have gone to extreme lengths to maintain their reputation. The BBC (2017f) have recently reported the outrageous lengths of gross-misconduct through exam malpractice an academy has undertaken to meet the performance measures. It is important for school leaders to adopt a moral standpoint and address areas of social justice and equality throughout the school. It is essential that school leaders are supported by the Government, as school leaders have been discouraged by the increase in workload leading to an increase in resignations.




As discussed by Earley (2013), change is inevitable to enable England to compete economically with other nations around the world. Therefore, it is important for schools to become autonomous to both survive rapid change and influence the future of education (Earley; 2013; Stoll et al, 2003). However, autonomy that has been associated with academies has been discursive rather than actual, resulting in little impact on educational outcomes (Keddie, 2015; Glatter, 2012). Being presented with a subsidiary version of autonomy contradicts the true purpose of autonomy and has been used in an ‘exceedingly broad fashion’ (Wermke, 2015:2). Consequently, school leaders have been left dependant on the Government, who are still ultimately responsible in leading educational change.

Schools are often left instead with the aftermath of educational change (Harris, 2009). Changes to education need to be substantial and sustainable, not just a ‘fad’ that is implemented through reforms to adhere to a neoliberal regime. If this trend of ‘cycling change for change sake’ continues, it will further justify the claim of Salokangas (2014) that England is a real world educational laboratory.

inted5Saltman (2014) and Chapman et al (2008) argue that future educational reforms need to focus on creating a more inclusive environment and both break free from and challenge the accepted norms and legacy of neoliberal ideals. If this strategy is implemented nationally over time this would become normative and redefine local and national discourses (Purcell, 2011). If not, issues relating to social segregation will continue into the next Government and beyond. There is a need for additional research focusing on the impact of ‘Converter’ academisation of an underperforming socially segregated schools, addressing issues relating to school structuring and learner outcomes.



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Ragged Schools, Grammar Schools and Social Segregation

The ‘Ragged Schools’ were developed in working class areas in Victorian Britain and was the start of free comprehensive schooling. These schools were set up for the poorest families in contrast to the private schools set for the wealthy . Subsequently, reinforcing social class and division.

The government have invested £50 million of funding  to support the expansion of grammar schools to support the gifted and the talented. is the country at risk  of repeating the cycle of social segregation and elitism?