Cameron ignores evidence and repeats discredited soundbites to paint positive gloss over Education Bill

Janet Downs's picture
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Stop exaggerating academy success, said the Education Select Committee. Informal intervention such as local support is more effective (and cheaper) than academy conversion, said the National Audit Office. Non-academies can do most things academies can do, said the Academies Commission. Data from the Department for Education (DfE) showed sponsoring academies is not the best route to school improvement.

With evidence piling up against academy conversion and sponsorship being a magic bullet for school improvement, it’s perverse for the Government to promote academy conversion.

But that’s what the Education and Adoption Bill does. And that’s what Prime Minister David Cameron does in a puff piece in the Telegraph marking the Government’s first 100 days.

‘I want every school in the country to have the opportunity to become an academy and to benefit from the freedoms this brings,’ he writes.

But the so-called autonomy can be an illusion. This is especially true for academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs). A leader of one of the largest academy trusts. AET, admitted academies in MATs ‘give up their sovereignty’ when they join academy chains.

Academies in MATs can face a centrally-imposed curriculum (eg Future Academies and its Curriculum Centre) for which some of them will have to pay (eg Mosaica receives £100 per pupil per year from its subsidiary Aurora Academies Trust for Mosaica’s curriculum). Or they may be required to adopt a particular method of teaching (eg ARK and Maths Mastery*). Others change their names to show they belong to a particular ‘brand’ (eg Harris, Ormiston, Oasis). Others have remarkably similar websites suggesting conformity not autonomy (eg Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust).

But Cameron thinks academy heads can make decisions about how to teach the children in their schools. ‘I want teachers not bureaucrats deciding how best to educate our children,’ he writes. But as we’ve seen, academy heads and teachers can have such decisions imposed upon them. And the alleged ‘bureaucrats’ come not from the much-maligned local authorities (LAs), falsely painted as the dead hand of central management, but from the DfE which makes it quite clear what curriculum academies should follow (if not the National Curriculum then the UK Core Curriculum) and what methods should be used (eg Shanghai maths) and should not be employed (ie, any method schools ministers dislike – these are labelled ‘progressive’).

Local Authorities don’t ‘control’ schools – they haven’t since Local Management of Schools was introduced more than 25 years ago. If they ever did.

‘We have already seen how academy freedoms have been fundamental in turning around failing schools,’ continues Cameron. We have actually seen no such thing. Ofsted found good and outstanding schools shared common features. Academy status wasn’t one of them.

Our Prime Minister, then, is ignoring evidence, repeating discredited soundbites and putting an undeserved positive gloss on the Education and Adoption Bill passing through Parliament.

 

Remember, the last Education Act was based on the false premise that the UK (meaning England) had ‘plummeted’ down international league tables in ten years. We now know this was untrue. History is repeating itself. The proposed Education Bill is also built on a false premise - academy conversion is essential to improve schools. It isn’t.

NOTES *This is not a criticism of the method. Research found Year 1 pupils taught using Maths Mastery made a ‘small amount more progress’ than Y1 pupils in schools which didn’t follow the programme. However, the effect was ‘not statistically significant’. This suggests it should be up to individual heads whether to follow Maths Mastery or not – the decision should be theirs if they have true autonomy.
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