Stories + Views
Told you so……
Impossible not to say these three little words when we read today’s headlines about former Cameron adviser James O’Shaughnessy urging Michael Gove to privatise failing academies.
Leaving aside the for-profit principle for a moment – unquestionably, the Tories’ long term plan – O’Shaughnessy’s intervention is more interesting for what it acknowledges, only two years in, about Gove’s brave new education world. Namely: ‘that Michael Gove’s centralised system for overseeing 18,000 semi-independent schools, including failing schools, is “simply not viable”.’
That’s a very important admission and may well reflect a growing sense of nervousness within Whitehall about what the Gove-r-ment has actually unleashed over the past couple of years.
As argued so often on the LSN and in other forums, the vastly – indeed recklessly – expanded academy and free school programme has led both to increased centralisation and decreased local oversight, with many vulnerable schools, including academies, increasingly being left to sink or swim.
So far, the ideas mooted to salvage this tricky situation have included plans for another layer of local bureaucratic control such as a new unelected local commissioner, more regional Ofsteds or the expansion of the school chains.
O’Shaughnessy supports some of these ideas, chucking in the rather sinister and typically Tory claim that 40% of England’s schools are ‘”are providing an unacceptably mediocre education”. Slightly goes against the argument that academies are the solution to all our education problems though doesn’t it?
Rectifying this appalling situation, claims the former number 10 ‘blue skies’ thinker ( why are those skies never grey or streaked with red, I wonder?) will only come with the chance for the growing chains to make a profit. He also thinks academies should ‘ jettison existing governing bodies and form smaller paid bodies that mirror the boards of private companies.’
O’Shaughnessy’s ideas will, of course, have already been tested on Gove and co. In fact, as a former Cameron insider, he is sure to have debated these ideas frequently with leading Tories and those inside the DfE. but floating them, in a semi independent fashion, helps to give such policies the impression of greater plausibility and popularity.
It’s interesting though; large profit making chains with paid governing bodies is all a long, long way from the earnest rhetoric of 2010, with Gove and Cameron offering space to keen parents and idealistic teachers a chance to set up their own good, truly local schools.
The good news it that this direction finally offers Labour a genuine chance to develop a clear, alternative policy on education. with school improvement based on school autonomy, yes, but with renewed local oversight, inter school collaboration and improved teacher training and professional development.
But perhaps most important of all, Labour can promise to keep education public, and publicly accountable.