AndThe response to the government’s announcement in the Education White Paper that all schools in England should be turned into academies is remarkably muted. The last time this was attempted was in 2016, when ministers were forced to take a U-turn because of opposition from the Conservative Council. Six years later, and six months after becoming education secretary, Nadeem Jahawi sweetened the bill to win them over. Local authorities will now be allowed to set up their own trusts, turning their education departments into third-sector entities. Academies are promised the power to intervene if they do not provide what the community needs. There is also a long-awaited report for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Over the years, the Multi-Academy Trust (MATS) was completely spared inspections, with offset remittances confined to individual schools. The Department of Education has now finally admitted that it did not work. There are two reviews on the way: one to control the academy and the other to pay extra for their senior leaders.
Currently, 44% of England’s 22,000 schools are academies, of which 78% are secondary and 37% are primary. In the white paper it is hoped that more orders can be created from existing patchwork. There is an argument for the division of labor that it envisions, where councils plan arrangements and coordinate admissions and concentrate on distributing trusts. But when it comes to real-life situations, such as in the case of an expelled child that a council wants to place in a particular school, it is not clear that the council will be empowered to ignore a trust’s objections. Similarly, the test of commitment to enabling individual schools to jump from one mat to another will be in small print.
Emphasis is placed on the white paper on the quality of education, such as target funding for disadvantaged areas and a mental health leadership in each school. The government’s commitment to a research-oriented Education Endowment Foundation and the creation of a compulsory register of out-of-school children. But the overriding goal of the White Paper is to turn all schools into academies.
Anyone who wants the best for the next generation cannot object to the government’s ambition to “spread the brilliance of the best trust.” But the reality is that the Mats have increased inequality in the system, with their schools at the bottom as well as at the top of the league table. The education secretary and his officials are seeing evidence of this. So their promise to bring back the scratches of the backward. There is no reason to believe that they will succeed. Removing schools from the control of elected bodies is not a path to excellence. Experience in recent years has shown that system fragmentation has led to poor outcomes for some of the most at-risk children, including through “off-rolling”, when students drop out of a school without a formal exclusion.
Refusing to pay for the epidemic package that recommended hiring its own experts, Boris Johnson wants Mr Zahui to polish the government’s bad record. If this latest push toward academia is silenced, the cause of concern is that schools and councils are worn out by fighting a policy agenda driven by ideals rather than evidence.