Tory education bill will speed up failed academy project

Morgan1Last month the Department for Education announced its new Education and Adoption Bill. According to the DfE in their press release the bill will seek to “sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes’. Any school found inadequate by Ofsted will be expected to convert to academy status, as well as those schools that are found to be ‘coasting’, all of course without having to go through the process of consultation with staff, parents and the local community.

In fact Secretary of State for Education in her press release refers to the process of consolation set out in the 2010 Academies Act as ‘’leading to roadblocks’. This Bill which is being debated in parliament at the moment currently shows the Tories are wasting no time with their ideological crusade to privatise our state education system. As of June 2015, there are 4,676 academies open in England with many more in the pipeline. Since the introduction of academies in 2000 under the New Labour government, the rhetoric surrounding them has been one of success yet report after report shows the academy system has been found seriously wanting with little to no evidence to suggest they improve results or make for a better education system.

In January of this year, the House of Commons Education Committee concluded that “it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”. It continued, “We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools.” The Committee also highlighted significant variation between different academy chains. For example, a 2014 report by the Sutton Trust concluded that, “The very poor results of some chains – both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support – comprises a clear and urgent problem.”

While the Secretary of State makes constant claims that academies have miraculously turned around hundreds of schools the evidence just doesn’t support this. Putting statistics aside for a moment, you would be forgiven for thinking there had never been an academy that had been graded by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, or for that matter that a state school has never had or will have the capacity or capability to improve. In fact, there rarely seems to be a week that goes by where isn’t a local newspaper report on another academy with a damning Ofsted report. One must ask the question if academisation is seen as the magic answer what happens to a school if it fails once it has turned into an academy. Academise it again?

Again the Education Select Committee’s report on ‘Academies and Free Schools’ found: “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.” Running alongside this neo-liberal attack on education, it comes as no great surprise there is a massive teacher recruitment and retention crisis with around two-fifths of teachers leaving the profession within five years and enrolment to initial teacher training declining each year. Yet, within this new education bill there is no mention of how deal with this crisis and how it will retain our already undervalued and much maligned existing teachers.

In addition to this, there is also a potential Schools Places crisis on the horizon. According to data analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) two in five parts of England will have more primary-age pupils than places for them in 2016/17. This increases to more than half in 2017/18 and three in five in 2018/19. Again, this Bill has no reference on how it will deal with this issue. Hardly a ringing endorsement for a political party that likes to pride itself on ‘efficiency’.

One also has to question to role of the rather shadowy Regional School Commissioners (RSCs). Not content with sanctimoniously undermining and continued dismantling of our Local Education Authorities, these regional commissioners have been appointed by the Tories to basically become cheerleaders of the Free Schools and Academies programme. Some of commissioners have already been found to have links to academies with one of the RSCs being Sir David Carter, chief executive of the Cabot Learning Federation, which runs 11 academies in Bristol, Bath and Weston-Super-Mare. The new Bill sees these unelected RSCs have even more power. Even without the passing of the Bill their roles have been greatly extended. A recent letter from Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Schools Lord Nash to Children’s Services shows that he is now delegating decision-making on tackling so-called underperformance in maintained schools through sponsored academy arrangements to the RSCs.

The Bill, now in its second reading has been criticised by Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan as being at odd with the Tories claim that they want to devolve more power to local communities. Tristram Hunt Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said he is looking to ‘reshape the Bill’. How, is not yet quite clear. With the Academies and Free Schools programme in ‘freefall’ rather than a series of amendments a clear coherent narrative about their ineffectiveness is what is needed.

  1. Academies are a failure as are Faith Schools and Free Schools, and should be crapped. We need good neighbourhood comprehensive schools catering for all. We also need to consider bussing young children to different schools to get a better mix of all children from all backgrounds in a school if necessary..

  2. The academisation programme is part of the great reveral of the post-WWII social settlement that saw the creation of a unified system of public provision including a state education system delivered through local authorities. And as Naomi Fearon says, this is all being done without even a serious case being made that the changes improve educational provision. The changes are being made on the basis of a political philosophy for which individualism always trumps collectivism and independent schools always trump local authority schools.

    But here’s the thing. It is all very well to rail against the Tories on this but academies were started by Labour and when Gove picked up the idea and ran with it Labour put up no resistance at all. Also it was Labour that ended Local Education Authorities. Labour is entirely complicit in the great switch to schools regarded as state-funded independent units. The defence that Labour only intended academies to be for deprived areas is baloney.

    From 2010 Labour has had two disastrously awful Shadow Secretaries of State for Education: Stephen Twigg and Tristram Hunt. (Both Progress activists.) Twigg was ineffective and had no critique of government education policy. Hunt was and is, if anything, worse. At least Twigg had some knowledge of education. The general point is that neither were opposed to academisation. Even their opposition to free schools was phoney and amounted to a mere change of name (calling them ‘parent-led’ academies instead).

    Hunt’s recent attempt to blame Ed Miliband for Labour’s failure to foreground school issues was breathtaking coming from the man who, on his own account, had been given the job of Shadow Secretary in order to raise the profile of education.

    And what are we to say of Kevin Brennan, Labour’s Shadow Minister for schools? First that he has been a shadow minister in more senses than one. He has rarely been visible in the last five years of the Tory onslaught on our school system. His activity has been confined to Parliament and making anodyne speaches at meetings where participants were desperate to see signs of a fight against the Tories but were served up platitudes instead. After one such meeting I asked him to explain the difference between free schools and parent-led academies. He told me to write to him. I did, several times. I got two promises of a reply but, despite several reminders, that reply never came! Some Shadow Schools Minister.

    So, terrible though the Tory reforms are, it seems to me that the starting point for all criticism of our education system has to be criticism of Labour’s complicity in current developments and its total lack of a coherent philosophy of education or clear social programme showing the path to a decent education system for all. No such philosophy or programme can emerge while a man like Tristram Hunt remains in post.

    In his book Identity and Violence Armartya Sen said that the worst legacy of the Blair years is likely to be the promotion of ever more faith schools for ever more religions. I agree. Again the Tories have run with this Blair legacy. It is a social disaster in the making. And again, there is little point in criticising the government if we do not at the same criticise Labour for its deep involvement in this and its total inability to take a critical look at that involvement. If we had a Labour government tomorrow one thing is clear, all the main trends in education, rightly criticised by Naomi Fearon, would continue.

  3. The sad truth is that comprehensive education never managed to gain deep popular support in the UK, which is why it has been easy to – in essence – decollectivise the education service. As others have noted, all the main parties backed this de-collectivisation, and soon all schools will be academies or free or faith – it is irreversible.

    The question it all spotlights is: how can public provision be made genuinely popular, so that it can withstand dismantling by the individualists in all parties? Only the NHS, police and armed services seem to maintain genuine popular public support: that is why no party yet has managed to fully privatise them.

    All other areas – education, probation, mining, transport, utilities, postal- really didn’t have much support to stay in the public sector except from many of those who worked in them.

      • Matty – we have had this debate many times before: the polls you quote are accurate, I am sure, but renationalisation is simply not one of the top issues for Tory or UkIp or Lib Dem voters – they are much more concerned about tax rises, the economy. Europe, immigration, benefit cuts.

        John – thank you: privatisation is not that popular with many voters now, but people have short memories, and I remember in the 1980s how fed up many people were with British Rail, BT, comprehensive schools, council housing, etc…and it was these feelings which Thatcher and Major so skilfully amplified to push forward their agenda.

  4. I’m afraid that David Pavett’s excellent critique of Labour’s failings on education should also be aimed at the left. While the left has been vocal on austerity, living standards, health, housing and other issues it has been largely silent on education, thus enabling the current Labour position to have been much more easily imposed than if it had been opposed.

  5. The title of the article is quite wrong given the academy project is actually quite a success. Not in terms of educational achievement of course. In fact I predict that the marketised mess of academised English schools will continue to struggle in terms of results against that of the rest of the UK where academies thankfully don’t exist.

    No, it was never about education at all – that is a myth that too many on the left continue to swallow which in turn hampers seeing academies and free schools for what they are – successful attempts to privatise education and remove any kind of local democratic control, oversight and planning together with the central aim to break the power of the education unions in the highest union membership density industrial sector in the country.

    And the attack on the unions is working. Large numbers of academies are now moving away from large parts of the national pay and conditions of service for both teachers and support staff (in general the pay of the Heads is going up, the pay for the rest is going down). Harsher sickness and capability rules are being imposed and facility time for local lay reps is being removed meaning branch structures are collapsing. In addition so far the larger teaching unions have proved incapable of stopping any of that let alone stopping the national attacks on pay and pensions (NUT quietly abandoned its national dispute after achieving next to nothing, NASUWT are carrying on with a failed work to rule that none of their members are abiding by).

    So yes, so far the academies programme has been very successful indeed, unfortunately.