The Government wants every school in England to become an academy by 2022. Is this a good thing? Well read the arguments here and decide for yourselves whether you want an undemocratic school system funded centrally by the Department for Education, and overseen by 8 regional bureaucracies. Sign the petition and write to your councillors MP if you disagree with the government. Have no doubt, Labour is totally opposed.
George Osborne, in his budget speech, announced that all schools in England (Westminster does not have power over schools in Scotland and Wales) would become academies. This was followed with a White Paper from the Department for Education entitled “Educational Excellence Everywhere Cm 9230” dated 17th March 2016 open here. Many see the announcement of this in the budget as an attempt by the Chancellor (or “Chancer” as Jeremy Corbyn called him) to deflect debate away from his financial attack on welfare for the neediest and most disadvantaged in society, whilst giving tax breaks to those least in need.
A White Paper is usually a detailed preparation for legislation and used to follow a Green Paper which details all the arguments and is open to consultation. Cm 9230 follows the current trend to dispense with detailed argument and public debate and discussion through a Green Paper, and confounds pre-legislative policy and rhetoric within a ideological assertion posing as a vision, on which there is no consultation.
Basically the White Paper says that the government will make every school in England an academy by 2022, at which point local authorities in England will no longer have any democratic oversight over any schools. All schools will be academies funded directly from Whitehall and overseen by 8 Regional (unelected) Commissioners and, presumably, their own unaccountable bureaucracy. The academies will be in chains, or Multiple Academy Trusts (MATs), which will ensure quality through the operation of market forces just like train and utility companies. Parents will no longer be elected to and have a place on governing bodies. Teacher training through “on the job learning” will be expanded. There will be a new professional body for teachers.
The justification for this is very thin and the evidence even flimsier.
It is claimed that 1 in 3 primary pupils leave that phase of their education unable to read, write and do mathematics, and we are falling behind other countries. Really? This is a structural rather than an investment problem – if it really exists?
We are told that local authorities are bureaucracies weighing down on schools. And we all thought it was democratic control. Silly us. Still with those nice unelected Regional Commissioners there will be no bureaucracy.
It is asserted that academies must be better than local authority schools because…well because the government says so. And we thought there would be published evidence and documented inspection. Aren’t we daft? Must have gone to a local authority school!
We are urged to realise that academies will be free to determine their own curriculum so teachers will be able to follow what the MAT determines and the profession will be free. But we thought we had this massive debate about a national curriculum in the 1980s? We were told by the Tory Party that teachers could not be trusted and we needed a national curriculum (which turned out to be a national syllabus because politicians just could not restrain themselves). Doesn’t the testing and exam regime determine the curriculum anyway? Will it be a good thing to have unchecked fundamentalist MATs prescribing a creationist curriculum?
A professional body, we are prevailed upon to believe, will make teaching a respected body like doctors and lawyers. How naïve we are to think that organisations like the BMA or the Law Society are not democratic and voluntary trade unions, and teachers need a body run by the government if they are to be professionally accepted. Teachers must be too silly to be able to create their own trade unions: they need the parental hand of government to point them to the right kind of professional body.
The final, and patently spurious, argument is that we need to have an administratively uniform education system. Well who knew? What else does this apply to: trains and utilities perhaps? And how does that fit in with the other principle that there needs to be choice?
The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, tried to sell these changes to a teacher union as enhanced professional autonomy. She was jeered out of court. Even Tory councillors are joining Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors to condemn the proposals.
To create academies from the remaining 95% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools, local authorities will be forced to offer schools a 125 year lease on the land at a pepper-corn rent. Now very few schools make it unchanged to their 125th anniversary! How long did the 1944 Education Act with its tripartite secondary structure remain? Structural change is always politically attractive but demographic, social and technological shifts have always been the major driving force for change in school structure and deployment.
If an academy dissolves, the Secretary of State will have the say on what is to be done with the land. Don’t hold your breath in the belief that it will go back to the local authority. So local authorities will have to give away land at a pepper-corn lease but central government can decide to sell it in 10 or 20 years’ time and pocket the proceeds.
It does seem absurd that we are in a referendum about whether we stay in the EU with a principle argument for leaving being a democratic deficit in the EU, while at the same time our own government is busying destroying local democratic accountability (without a manifesto commitment let alone a referendum!).
So what can be done?
Well sign here for a start. This petition will force a debate in Parliament before legislation is proposed.
Then urge your councillors and MP to oppose this undemocratic measure.