Today Michael Gove accepted defeat and wrote that he would not force Snaresbrook School to become an academy. It is a triumph for the parents of the school, who organised a hugely effective campaign
. They won all-party support and the unanimous backing of the local, Tory-run, Redbridge Council. They were actually at Downing Street, handing in their 2,000 strong petition, when they heard of the victory.
Snaresbrook School was under threat after Ofsted rated it inadequate in June. This caused the Department for Education to start the academisation process and send in a "broker" to discuss proposals for a sponsor. The Academies Act provides huge centralised power for the Secretary of State to intervene.
Speaking at a packed protest meeting a month ago I was struck by the fact that the cabinet member responsible for Childrens Services and the Council Leader (both Tories) attended and gave their full support to the parents in resisting the school becoming an academy.
An Effective Local Authority Intervenes
Even before the Ofsted inspection, Redbridge Council had become aware of the school's weaknesses and intervened. They organised the planned departure of the previous Head and Chair and made new leadership appointments. This year's SAT results showed such improvement that the school had the 4th best results in the borough.
Following the Ofsted, Redbridge Council appointed an Executive Head, somebody with a track record of helping turn schools round, and invested £50,000 in supporting the school's improvement.
This is what effective local authorities do. With local knowledge they are normally aware of issues in schools long before Ofsted intervenes and have the resources and the experience to provide the support that is needed. The idea that an academy chain of just two schools (which was what was recommended to the governors) would have provided more effective support than an effective and experienced local authority like Redbridge Council must surely seem absurd to any independent observer.
Who challenges and supports academies?
This is the gap that exists in the world of academies. The DfE cannot have the same local knowledge and awareness that a good local authority has. I know myself of local authorities who have sought to make the DfE aware of underperformance of local academies but been dismissed on the basis that the schools were not below the floor targets. If those were maintained schools, there would have been that extra level of challenge and support.
Councils like Redbridge have put aside the misguided and destructive ideology of their party, because they know that their local authority is best placed to provide education to the families it represents.
Forced academisation can be resisted
Congratulations to the parents of Snaresbrook for their highly effective campaign. They have shown that forced academisation can be resisted.
And well done to the Conservative councilllors of Redbridge for putting their practical knowledge of what works in schools above the dogmatic beliefs of Michael Gove.