Has HMCI, Sir Michael Wilshaw, revealed a personal and professional alignment and preference for the Academy programme driven by the Conservative led coalition and latterly Conservative majority government?
It appears to me that the tone, tenor and content of this year’s annual report has revealed Sir Michael’s and his department’s preference for academies and free schools (). As evidence I would refer readers to page 13 in the HMCI’s commentary which includes the following statements: 'Of the 3,300 secondary schools in England, 2,000 are now academies, outside local authority control and formally accountable to the Department for Education. The first sponsor-led academies were created around a decade ago to take over failing schools where aspirations and achievement were too low. Many of these schools were turned around by a combination of new investment, new leaders and a relentless focus on raising standards.' 'As last year’s Annual Report showed, most of the sponsored academies had the greatest impact on standards in the first few years after opening. Many of these continue to perform well because their leaders have worked hard to maintain their high standards but some have declined. Overall, the best performing sponsor‑led academies are those that have been open for five years or more. Fifty-three per cent of secondary sponsor-led academies, many of which were previously failing schools, are now good or outstanding, three percentage points higher than last year.' 'Undoubtedly, academisation injected more vigour and competition into the system. This drove greater improvement in some parts of the country and in some schools that had languished in serious underperformance for years. Academisation can create the conditions for remarkable improvements but structural reform can only do so much.' 'I believe it is right to give more autonomy to the front line but we must ensure that schools have the capacity to use their freedoms effectively. Without enough good leaders and teachers, effective oversight and governance, and a concerted effort to support the most disadvantaged, we will not bring about the improvements needed.' I do not subscribe to the position that simply by mentioning the number of schools that were good or outstanding converting to academy status and maintained their good or better grading is balanced or fair. What this approach effectively achieves is to sweep under the carpet the fact that becoming an academy has made no difference to each converter schools performance while simultaneously and falsely creating the message that academy status has provided the basis for their success (or more accurately, continued success). HMCI is right to highlight that there is regional underperformance which is sharply contrasted by comparing the primary school performance (the vast majority of which are not academies) in those areas with that of the secondary schools but, and for me this is both a relevant and important factor that is not mentioned, whereas deprivation and free school meal entitlement is taken into account there is no mention of any attempt to consider the critical issue of pupil motivation and hope. That is to say, there is little or no hope of employment within their locality which is thoroughly academically demotivating and disengaging. It is my position that primary phase children are more open and keener to please by doing well but this does not carry over per se into the secondary phase. Part of what I will call HMCI’s missing link is that as these children transition to teen and young adult they are more aware and influenced by discourse at home which is not always positive toward or predisposed toward education and qualifications. From this position it is entirely possible to see that family debates and perceptions of the employment market and future employment opportunities in the Midlands – and East Midlands in particular – and the North East and West are in all likelihood going to be downbeat through to despondent. This alone is hardly a fertile ground for Y7-11 pupils to aspire let alone be inspired by teachers or school leaders. This borne out on page 47 (50 and 51), which highlights the impact of good careers advice but this in its turn is starkly undermined if there are insufficient to barely any job opportunities locally or regionally: '50. Visits this year to schools that perform highly for pupils from low-income backgrounds found that these schools started early with encouraging pupils to think about their long-term career and education goals and promoted a wide range of opportunities and choices. Our report ‘Apprenticeships: developing skills for future prosperity’ found that the continued poor promotion of apprenticeships in schools restricted pupils’ access to reliable information. Poor advice in schools led to a small number of apprentices interviewed initially starting an A-level course that they felt had delayed their career. There is clearly still a misconception that apprenticeships are not for young people with a good academic record.' '51. Weaker secondary performance across the North and Midlands has an impact on Key Stage 5 and destinations from age 18 or 19 onwards. Learners in these regions perform less well in their A-level studies than learners in the rest of the country. They are more likely to progress to higher education and take up apprenticeships. However, the learners from the North and Midlands are less likely to attend universities that are most highly ranked,56 and a smaller proportion of the most disadvantaged young people are going on to higher education. Furthermore, a higher proportion of the most disadvantaged young people across the North and Midlands are not going on to any study or employment at all, or are not completing what they started (see Annex 1).' This runs over into page 48 and the messages about ‘Skills for employment’, which the key regions identified by HMCI may struggle with in terms of ‘Skills for WHAT employment?’ In overall terms, the report contains too much praise for the freedoms and independence readily available through academisation and the unavoidable inference that LA schools underperform because they lack these things, which is another example of promoting of academy status over that of LA schools and in this way flies the flag of government policy undermining – if not shredding – HMCI’s and Ofsted’s claims of independence.