The Government has freed schools from local authority control, said Nick Gibb
, now Minister for School Reform, and that will ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’
But all is not light in Nick Gibbs’ flower-strewn meadow. The numbers taking EBacc subjects is up, he crowed. Now there’s a surprise. The Government introduces a performance-measure and, unsurprisingly, schools do what it takes to meet the measure.
However, GCSE provisional data
paint a slightly less euphoric picture:
DOWN: entries for non-EBacc subjects – a reduction of 43%
DOWN: entries for biology (27,186 fewer entries)
DOWN: entries for chemistry (28,539 fewer entries)
DOWN: entries for physics (29,133 fewer entries)
It’s true that entries for core science and additional science rose. But in 2008, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools, and Families, Michael Gove (now ex-education secretary), pleaded passionately
for children to learn three separate sciences. The best universities want separate sciences, he said. The chances of getting the ‘best jobs around’ were curtailed if children didn’t take physics, chemistry and biology.
But under Gove's reforms, the number of pupils taking separate sciences has gone down.
The schools minister singled out the London Academy of Excellence in Newham for special praise. More LAE pupils were offered Oxbridge places than ‘has ever been achieved’ by Newham, in any previous year. But this feat appears to have been achieved by LAE culling pupils who achieve poorly in AS exams after their first year at LAE as revealed in an Academies Week exclusive.
University Technical Colleges, UTCs, which offer education with a vocational bias to pupils at 14-19, also received a plug. 30 UTCs have been established, said Gibb. But one of these, Hackney UTC, which opened in 2012, has already closed
provoking criticism about the UTC project. Others struggle with recruitment.
The academies programme, Gibb said, ensured 1,200 ‘worst-performing’ schools had been taken over by sponsors. This would ensure the children received the education they ‘deserve and need’. Gibb obviously hadn’t read the latest Audit Office
report which found informal intervention in struggling schools was more effective than formal intervention. And sponsored academies were less effective than other formal interventions such as setting up an Interim Executive Board.
Academies can vary their curriculum, Gibb claimed. But Department for Education information about the new performance descriptors
at Key Stages One and Two makes it quite clear what all schools, academies included, will be judged on. And these performance indicators link to the National Curriculum. No escape seems possible.
Teach First received a mention – the Government’s favourite way of training teachers. I’m sure Gibb will welcome Durham University’s evaluation of the scheme when it's eventually published. It’s long overdue. Perhaps he can ask Teach First to release it. Instead, he cited the 38 social enterprise projects set up by former Teach Firsters as examples of what could be achieved ‘when real autonomy is delivered’. It’s unclear how autonomy in academies (which is much exaggerated in any case) has to do with the ability to set up a social enterprise. Government guidance
about this doesn’t mention academies or autonomy, real or otherwise.
Gibb said he was delighted to see ‘the fruits of this autonomy in all their vivid abundance’. But the Minister for School Reform fails to acknowledge that autonomy already existed before the Government said schools needed to escape from local authority ‘control’. Schools haven’t been under LA control since Local Management of Schools was introduced more than a quarter-of-a-century ago. Schools in England already had a great deal of freedom (Academies Commission 2013). The extra autonomy attached to academy status doesn’t amount to much – non-academies can do most things that academies can do.