Every so often governments (of all persuasions) tire of the grinding, mundane and difficult exercise of good governance and administration and strike out with slightly barmy policies which seem like a good idea in a think tank or Ministerial office in Whitehall. We can discuss East Anglian devolution another day but one such other policy I regret to say is the compulsory academisation of all primary and secondary schools: In the absence of a credible and coherent Labour Party to hold the Government to account, it falls to Conservative backbenchers (who like me neither crave or are likely to be offered preferment) to point out the flaws in these proposals, which were not in our General Election manifesto.
And I’m opposed not for ideological reasons – although the plans to force a national template on all local education authorities is profoundly unConservative – nor because I support the extreme Left Luddite dinosaurs who sit atop the teaching unions – but because I have seen for myself with the ongoing debacle at the Voyager Academy in Walton that trusting the education bureaucracy (such as the Regional Schools Commissioner) and remote and effectively unaccountable academy trusts to tackle endemic education failure at a local level just doesn’t work – and the thought that this should be a model to roll out across the country with the role of parent governors marginalised and phased out is anathema to me.
Do we really want to “nationalise” our school system with a uniform legal, administrative and governance template? We won’t always have a Conservative Government and so the idea of bequeathing a top down system to Jeremy Corbyn et al fills me with horror but that’s what might happen. There is also no evidence (as yet) that forced academisation will of itself deliver improved educational standards: This was demonstrated in evidence presented in a report by the cross party Commons Education Select Committee last year.
It is also a recipe for upheaval as well as muddle and costly confusion: What will be the costs of this compulsory academy policy, especially in areas like land transfers? Is there any evidence that there is sufficient capacity in Multi Academy Trusts to run and turnaround not just high performing schools but those which are struggling, like Voyager? The evidence suggests not. Do we really believe that remote civil servants or “local” Regional Schools Commissioners will be adequate substitutes for the real local knowledge, expertise, passion, teamwork, skills and shared history of local councillors, dedicated education officers and parents “on the ground?” The difference is obvious: At least the latter are accountable to their electorate, whilst the former are accountable only to their hierarchy – namely the Secretary of State, rather than pupils, parents, teachers or governors.
It is wrong to effectively abolish local education authorities and the accumulated professional support of many good officers without a proper evidence base and wrong to force schools to become academies by squashing local choice, differentiation and expertise. It also rightly irritates local councillors.
Finally, it’s because I’m a Conservative that I can see that something like this is a million miles from what a Conservative Party in office should be doing. Churchill said “trust the people” and I do. That’s why I will not be supporting this rushed, ill thought out and flawed policy and I suspect the government will dump it before too long.”