A U turn? Or a different approach to forcing thousands of schools to become academies?
Nicky Morgan yesterday announced that the government had "abandoned" plans to force all schools to become academies. This had to happen, due to the massive unpopularity of the proposal - even among Tory MPS. But is the government just set to find another route to the same aim?
It is already the case that schools rated "inadequate" are receiving immediate academy orders, under the terms of the Education and Adoption Bill. The numbers of these orders could increase hugely when the "coasting" definition is introduced after the 2016 results. And Morgan defined two circumstances in which all schools in a local authority would be converted:
- Where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because too many schools have already become academies.
- Where the local education authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools.
The trick will be to include as many local authorities as possible, while avoiding the Conservative local authorities - as that would upset the Tory back benchers. The big question is how the government will define failing to meet "a minimum performance threshold".
One approach would be to simply look at the Ofsted ratings and set a minimum % Good or Outstanding. Taking the Ofsted judgements as of December 2015, these are the twenty local authorities with the highest % of schools (primary and secondary) rated "Required Improvement" or "Inadequate".
|LA||Schools||% RI / Inad||LA control|
|Isle of Wight||52||35%||NOC (Ind/Con)|
|North East Lincolnshire||63||25%||NOC (Labour)|
|East Riding of Yorkshire||149||22%||Con|
No, this looks unlikely to be the criteria as it includes nine authorities that are either Conservative controlled or where Conservatives are the largest party. So expect to see this combined with other performance measures.
Schools Week has noted that Michael Wilshaw, in the 2015 Ofsted Annual Report, named thirteen "failing" local authorities in the North. (There were also apparently three "failing" authorities in the South but he chose not to name these.) As Schools Week notes, twelve of these are Labour and the 13th has Labour as the largest party.
So why the difference from the table based purely on Ofsted judgements? Firstly Wilshaw's figures are based purely on secondary schools, although the majority of schools in any local authority are primaries. The above table is based on primary and secondary schools combined.
Secondly it includes two other criteria. To be included they must also (as well as less than 60% of secondaries being rated "Good" or "Outstanding") "have lower than national GCSE attainment and make less than national levels of expected progress."
Both these measures are closely related to school intake. If a school has an intake whose academic ability is below the national average, it is likely to have both GCSE results and levels of expected progress below the national average. (Levels of progress are not a neutral value added measure. The % achieving the required 3 levels of progress is far higher students achieving level 5 at age 11 than for those achieving level 4, for whom it is in turn higher than those on level 3. For more on this, see here.)
We know that areas with high levels of disadvantaged pupils are both more likely to have low academic achievement at school entry (due to the achievement gap in existence across nearly all schools) and are also more likely to be Labour. By using criteria that match closely with initial academic ability, rather than any genuine measure of school achievement, you will hit more Labour areas. And avoid areas that have strong intakes but whose schools are coasting.
Let us watch with interest. But it seems likely that the government will follow the Ofsted example and find it easy to target Labour Councils and so avoid upsetting their backbench MPs.