Government ignores Trojan Horse report as recommendations disappear down a rabbit hole
The appointment of Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorism Branch, to lead an inquiry into the Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham was controversial. Critics said it was an attempt by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to draw attention away from Government policies which may have contributed to the problem. Instead, it would have diverted the focus towards terrorism. But Clarke’s report did not flinch from criticising the Department of Education and making several recommendations*. One of these was that the DfE should review the ways in which schools are able to convert to academies and in which single academies could become Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). This assessment should include making appropriate checks on MAT individuals and ensuring the MAT’s capability and capacity. There are now nearly 800 MATs. This number will continue to increase. The Education and Adoption Bill currently going through Parliament will make it easier for the DfE to force schools to become academies. At the same time, stand-alone academies are at risk. There are hints that such academies are isolated and inefficient. If stand-alone academies are judged Inadequate they are given little time to improve but are handed to a MAT. Around 40 academies listed in my Freedom of Information response as having moved trusts were stand-alone. It is likely stand-alone academies will rush to scoop up schools and become MATs to avoid being swallowed by an existing academy chain. It is difficult to see how this rapid expansion would allow the Government to check on how competent MATs are. We have already seen with AET and TKAT how speedy growth, egged on by Michael Gove, has led to problems. But academies are being urged to become MATs and MATs are being persuaded to expand. Money is available to do so. Schools Week reveals the DfE paid one-off payments of £100,000 to 144 organisations in 2013/14 to take-over struggling schools. Legislation to be announced next spring will propose that all schools are academies by 2020. This doesn’t sit well with reviewing how ‘schools are able to convert’ and assessing whether MATs are competent. It rather suggests a charge of Light Brigade proportions. Another of Clarke’s recommendation was particularly burning: as a matter of urgency, the DfE should consider how best to collect local concerns during conversion. The imperative to gather local opinion about proposals to convert a school will be crushed. The Education and Adoption Bill removes the right of parents and others to be consulted about academy conversion. There will be no collection of ‘local concerns’. The Government has, however, taken on one of Clarke’s recommendations. Clarke said the ‘brokerage system’ whereby schools are matched with sponsors should be reviewed, again as a matter of urgency. This would ensure more transparency, Clarke claimed. Brokers have been replaced by ‘a pool of educational experts’ chosen via ‘open competition’, a Parliamentary written answer reveals. ‘Notionally’, these experts would be available to be called upon as required by Regional Schools Commissioners to help them with their work. Whether these ‘experts’ will be any different to brokers or the system less opaque is unclear. The use of the word ‘notionally’ doesn’t inspire confidence. Its dictionary definitions include: ‘not real or actual; ideal or imaginary’ and ‘given to or full of foolish or fanciful ideas or moods.’ This aptly describes the Alice in Wonderland world we are increasingly inhabiting. *See faq above Trojan Horse – what action did Peter Clarke recommend for the Department for Education (DfE?) EXTRA: Nearly £14m has been spent on brokers from 2010/11, the Parliamentary Written Answer reveals. UPDATE 5 December 2015. The Government has also ignored Clarke's recommendation that an academy governor should sit on no more than two academy governing bodies. Instead, it says the Governors' Handbook was amended in 2014 to 'now advise that prospective governors should have sufficient capacity to serve as a governor'. It claims this has satisfied Clarke's recommendations in full. It's unclear how not setting a limit on the number of governing bodies academy governors can sit on complies with Clarke's recommendations.