When is a reverse gear not a reverse gear? When it still allows speeding forward
Yesterday Education Secretary Nicky Morgan abandoned plans for wholesale enforced academization despite saying there would be no 'reverse gear' on reforms.
Is this a U-turn? No: the expectation that all schools will be academies by 2022 remains.
If it isn’t a U-turn, then what is it? Disappointed Idealist describes it as ‘fake withdrawal’. James Williams, Sussex University, says it’s a ‘U-bend’. Schools Week found the newly-announced plan to convert all schools in 'underperforming' local authorities will affect far-more Labour councils than Tory ones.
Morgan’s headed off a Tory revolt by introducing a new policy allowing mass enforced conversion of schools, even those Good or better, in predominantly Labour areas. Let’s hope the loudly-expressed concern by some Conservatives about enforced conversion of good and outstanding schools extends to those outside Tory areas.
Morgan says she's had feedback:
‘It is clear from those conversations that the impact academies have in transforming young people’s life chances is widely accepted and that more and more schools are keen to embrace academy status.’
But the ‘impact’ of academies isn’t ‘widely accepted’. House of Commons Briefing Paper 6233, 19 October 2015*, said:
‘…the data so far suggests academy status has made no difference to the progress made in converter academies, compared to similar non-academy schools over the same time period.’
The converter academy impact, then, is no more and no less than similar non-academies. Morgan would be better off reading ‘the impartial briefing and evidence base’ provided by the Commons’ research team than relying on feedback from those likely to say what she wants to hear.
Or she should read the National Audit Office report which found informal interventions were more effective than formal intervention such as academy conversion. Or listen to Radio 4’s More or Less which discredited claims in Morgan’s Mumsnet post. Or maybe she should read the chapter in our book which debunks the myth that academies raise standards.
Nevertheless, Morgan is upbeat about the rise in applications. ‘In the last monthly figures 227 schools put in applications to convert, the highest monthly figure since the programme began, and we expect this rate to increase,’ Morgan claimed. Hardly surprising – the blanket academization announcement is likely to have caused schools to jump before being pushed. No doubt she hopes that in repeating her ‘determination’ that all schools become academies that non-academies will convert before having conversion thrust upon them.
But it should be remembered that 74% of schools are still not academies including 34% of secondary schools. And it’s increasingly beginning to dawn on schools that becoming an academy in a multi-academy trust (the only viable option for small schools) risks losing autonomy. MATs allow their academies only as much freedom as trustees are willing to concede.
After six years of relentless propaganda about academies, nearly three-quarters of schools still remain with LAs. This isn't a stubborn rump but the majority of schools. And it appears the reluctance of this majority to convert suggests these schools aren't convinced by Government rhetoric about academies. They're right to be sceptical.
*I can’t provide a link. An internet search should locate it.