Walworth Academy school. Photo: Alex McGregor (Creative Commons)
Schools take centre stage in #Budget2016
As trailed in yesterday’s press, a centrepiece of the Budget is a move to make every school in England an academy and to strip local authorities of their long-standing role in education.
The signs were there that this was on the cards with the Times reporting earlier this month that there would be two Education Bills in the Queen’s Speech, including one to accelerate “academisation”.
Another Bill was expected anyway to clarify the definition of “coasting schools” that will be forced to become academies under the powers of the Education and Adoption Bill that is just about to gain Royal Assent.
So that will mean three Education Acts in the first two years of this Parliament and this shows the strenuous efforts to complete the process begun by the last government to remove all schools from local authority control.
Much more information will be available tomorrow when the Secretary of State for Education launches a new White Paper.
The latest DfE statistics show that there are currently 5,170 academies and another 703 schools in the pipeline for conversion very soon.
But this conversion process has occurred fastest among secondary schools – as of now only 35% of them remain local authority maintained schools whilst 82% of primary schools still have this status.
These latest figures suggest that the new drive to academise all remaining schools means converting over 14,000 primary schools and around 1,400 secondary schools in the coming years (most by 2020 but all by the deadline of 2022).
These decisions are being taken at a time when the existing Academy model is under increasing criticism from many quarters, including the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw.
He recently sent a memo to the Secretary of State for Education lambasting the performance of several large Multi-Academy Trusts and also questioning the inflated salaries of many of the CEOs of these Trusts.
It is therefore of little surprise that the Parliamentary Education Select Committee has now initiated a full-scale inquiry into Multi-Academy Trusts.
There are a raft of other major concerns about the academy model, including the lack of accountability of these schools to parents, the local community and school staff.
For example, the Chief Executive of the National Governors Association has said that the Education and Adoption Bill:
“not only removes the right for parents to be consulted, but it will give the Secretary of State power to overrule the decisions of local decision makers, whether those are the school governing body or the local authority”.
Referring to the same legislation the Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“Hundreds of schools, often in disadvantaged areas, are being turned around thanks to the intervention of local councils. It’s clear that strong leadership, outstanding classroom teaching and effective support staff and governors are the crucial factors in transforming standards in struggling schools.”
The education unions have been at the forefront of various campaigns flagging up the major fault lines in the academy model since the very beginning and warning – often to disbelieving audiences – that the endgame was to make all schools academies (or free schools).
And as Scarlet’s blog evidences, the extension of the academy model will end the long-standing consensus on national pay and conditions that previously underpinned constructive relationships between the school workforce unions and school employers.
This change will lead to widespread chaos in employee relations, with women bearing the brunt of academies forcing staff to work longer and to accept a mixed bag of pay rates.
As a final footnote, it is quite astonishing that the Chancellor’s announcement about a new initiative to develop a Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy makes reference to how London’s school system has been turned around.
It is widely recognised – including by Ofsted – that the transformation of London schools in recent year was largely due to the impact of the “London Challenge” programme launched in 2003 by the Labour Government.
It was based on building a collaborative approach among local schools, with the close involvement and support of local authorities, trade unions and other partners, to drive up school improvement.
The Northern Powerhouse strategy will be led by Sir Nick Weller, headteacher of an Academy school in Bradford, and there is likely to be little or no role for local authorities.