The best model for school improvement is based on teachers supporting each other, Michael Gove tells the Education Committee
. And he is right. However, his efforts to show that his policies, especially academy conversion, are “more powerful than the levers available to previous Governments” fail to realise that most of the initiatives he praises began before 2010.
Mr Gove’s first duff note is that converter academies are committed to supporting weaker schools. It’s true that schools say during the conversion process that they will offer such support but they don’t put this commitment into action – only 3% of converters
are helping other schools.
Undeterred, Mr Gove gives examples - he even changes the names of some schools so there’s no doubt that these praised institutions are academies. The Crypt School, Gloucester, becomes The Crypt Academy and is praised for links with Beech Green Primary. But relations with primary schools were established before conversion – Crypt’s 2008 Ofsted
praises them - and Beech Green is part of Gloucester Schools’ Partnership
, a head teacher-led programme which began in 2008 as an offshoot of an Education Achievement Zone
initiative established in 1999. Rugby High School, a converter academy, is commended for its work in primary schools but the school’s 2006 Ofsted
shows that mentoring was already present. Mr Gove writes how Nene Park Academy was turned round through its sponsorship with Swaveley (sic) Academy – but Nene Park’s predecessor school, Orton Longueville, had been supported by Swavesey Village College
under a National Support School Contract since 1 April 2010 when Swavesey was a foundation school.
Mr Gove praises other initiatives which involve peer-to-peer support – National Leaders of Education
programme (started 2007) and his own flagship programme, Teaching Schools. But he didn’t mention the School Improvement Partner
programme which began in 2005 nor Local Leaders of Education
(LLE), another pre-Coalition initiative, which produced 2,000 leaders committed to supporting weaker schools. Presumably Mr Gove didn’t want to mention successful programmes which involved local authorities (LAs) because he is keen to portray LAs as controlling bureaucracies so he can more easily dismantle the buffer between centralised control and local schools.
According to the Government, schools will only improve through its initiatives and teachers are now better able to cooperate than at any previous time. But this attitude shows an arrogant disdain for what teachers have been doing for years with the support of, among others, local authorities, subject organisations and government initiatives.
Government strategies will reduce cooperation not make it more likely. Head teacher leaders warned in May 2011 that the Teaching Schools initiative would flop
if insufficiently funded. The Association of Directors of Children's Services warned
that the Government’s insistence that academies are only supported by academies will “prevent some effective school-to-school support". Restricting the number of local leaders means a successful LLE scheme can grow no further. And the Government’s belief in market forces whereby schools are in competition with each other will prevent, not encourage, cooperation between schools.