2015 Academy Bill coming

Trevor Fisher's picture
Forced Academy Bill Coming- Game changer needed

The Tories have announced they will start the next five years with an Academy Bill, as they did five years ago. Will the outcome be different this time and the tide be turned against Academies?
The myth that schools have choices is exposed by the plans announced last week, but without a game changer the Anti Academies Alliance should not expect to succeed.

The plans are for “coasting schools” to be academised, on the grounds that though they are not failing their results have flatlined – so naturally they have to be academised as this will immediately boost their output figures. Nicky Morgan told Andrew Marr on 17th May that 'academies are fantastic schools' because they 'give power to the head and teachers'. This is not true, but is the core of the autonomy myth, which is based on the idea that their results are being held back by bureaucrats. In over a decade of campaigning, the Anti Academies Alliance has not been able to dent the myth.

If the bill is to be effectively opposed with the Lib Dem support now removed, thus making this a purely Tory measure, coming to grips with the power of the myth inside the Westminster bubble – aided by the Labour Party, which invented it. The facts have never supported this, but the facts have never made any difference despite clear financial impropriety reported on by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, and results not improving when proper statistical tests have been applied. The many academic studies, the work of the Pearson commission, and the January report of the Education Select Committee, all pointed that the improvement in results myth was just that – and had zilch effect.

What can be done to make sure there is a different outcome this time?

Trevor Fisher20 5 2015
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 12:33

Even before 2010, the evidence showed academies were no better than non-academies. PwC, for example, found that where academies were improving, they were using similar methods to those found in improving LA schools. It wrote: “There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement” and “the process of change was complex and varied and could not be ascribed to a “simple uniform ‘Academy effect’”.

It could be argued there were too few academies in 2008 when PwC wrote the above. But two years later, the National Audit Office said the past performance in academies, which was not uniform in any case, was no predictor of future performance and it was, therefore, unwise to press forward with mass academy conversion particularly with primary schools.

Nevertheless, the Coalition pushed ahead and passed the Academies Bill at breakneck speed.

Since then, however, evidence has mounted up that academy conversion is no magic bullet. The NAO, for example, found informal methods such as local support for struggling schools was more effective than formal interventions. Academy conversion was the least effective while at the same time being the most expensive.

Nicky Morgan, like her predecessor, ignores this. She even said on the Andrew Marr Show that academies were a 'better kind' of school than those under the stewardship of a local authority. They get better SATs and GCSE results, she claimed.

She's talking rubbish, of course. As Henry has pointed out several times, non-academies do as well, if not slightly better, than academies under similar circumstances. And it's in the primary sector with few academies where the proportion of Good and better schools has increased not the academy-heavy secondary sector where the proportion has remained static.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 17:22

Trevor, could someone challenge the 'evidence' being presented by the SoS and if so, how could this be done. For example, is it possible for a parent to challenge the SoS inside parliament or through the courts, maybe on the basis of Human Rights violations. Surely, politicians cannot tell outright lies without challenge???

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 12:59

Unfortunately, John, politicians can and do mislead the public and are economical with the truth. Gove, remember, was not challenged about how he ignored the OECD warning not to use the UK PISA figures for the year 2000 for comparison. FullFact ran the story and it was mentioned on this site, but no major media organisation picked it up. I wrote to the BBC Today programme and was ignored; I wrote to the Daily Mail whose article prompted me to investigate but I didn't really expect a reply from there. I emailed a Telegraph journalist who at least acknowledged by email but the DT still continued to make the misleading comparison.

Since then Gove and others continued to mislead - cherry picking or misrepresenting research to match their political ideas. It's not just the Tories - deception about academies began as soon as they were started.

And so it goes on - the first press release by Nicky Morgan after the election is a masterful example of spin. However, it's so over-the-top in its propaganda that it is ripe for mocking.

Brian's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 21:38

Maybe a consistent campaign aimed at the BBC and other bird cast media to see if they can ensure that interviewers are both well prepared and required to be rigorous in their questioning of the SoS? Solid preparation shouldn't be too difficult as we know what misleading statements the SoS will make and how data will be misrepresented. It shouldn't, therefore, be beyond the BBC to ensure they have interviewers well prepared to ask the appropriate questions.

Brian's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 22:12

Sorry ... 'broadcast' not 'bird cast'.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 22:34

Ashamed by my naivety, I looked into the prosecution question and was amazed that politicians are protected in law. They can lie until they pass out with the effort and not a thing can be done to bring them to book.

Brian, the kind of campaign you mention through the BBC and others would be a useful way to break down the wall of indifference of commentators that our MPs and ministers rely on to peddle their dark trade. As you point out, the charming Mrs Morgan is especially prone to spewing out the same lies and nonsense ad nauseam, playing out like the proverbial broken record of old. If a journalist worth their salt were to spend a just a little time preparing their questions and insisting on pursuing the facts, it would go a long way towards exposing her brazen manipulations of the truth. Of course, it would have to happen repeatedly so that the years of lying we have been subjected to were counteracted.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 04:33

We could at least use the correct word for a change to academy status - privatisation.

I think that the public would understand what is happening to our schools if they realised that it is privatisation - giving the ownership and control of publicly funded education to private entities.

Conservatives (and Blairites) believe that privatisation always brings improvements to public services. Whether it is Alistair Campbell talking about an end to "bog-standard comprehensive schools" or Nicki Morgan making up statistics, they assume that taking something from public ownership is always a good idea. Labour has never really challenged this assumption, and indeed many in the party actually believe it.

Mollie Weston's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 12:27

I don't think anything will change until the BBC can be persuaded to report on education in an unbiased manner. In my opinion, government ministers being interviewed by the BBC are allowed to get away with presenting opinion as fact. There are not pushed to support their claims with evidence, and evidence working against them receives no air time at all.

The various education correspondents could do well to read the Local Schools Network website. In the past I have emailed Gillian Hargreaves myself, suggesting she read it (probably naively).

To paraphrase Michael Gove, we needs some rigour in the media.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 18:41

Trevor and others, there has to be something people can do!

I, for one, can't accept we are powerless in the face of this blatant disregard for people's basic human rights.

Since when was it acceptable to withhold the truth from the electorate via the national media outlet funded through public subscriptions, namely the BBC? Maybe there is something in the BBC charter that requires it to ensure that, even though it may not be able to prevent a spokesperson from lying, it has a duty to ensure that at the end of an interview the actual situation is clarified.

As we all know, Andrew Marr interviews lots of spokespeople on education. Surely, it would be useful to contact him directly to ask him to explain why he allows his guests to get away with referring to data and facts that have been successfully refuted both inside and outside parliament. Dimbleby is another candidate for this sort of treatment.

Maybe even a letter to the Director General of the BBC asking that the situation be investigated as the reputation of the corporation is being sullied by this kind of sloppy journalism.

Anyone think any of this might help tackle the problem??

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 08:14

I posted this to call for a game changer - which has to be done by a united effort of groups inside and outside the Reclaim Education ALliance.. This is not yet on the agenda.

The issue of politicians lying and being protected by law is not just an educational question, so we need to have chapter and verse on what is being suggested

However the BBC knows very well what is happening, and I have the letters to the DIrector General to prove it. The attempt by CASE to rebut the BBC4 programme on grammars in 2012 hit a brick wall, and the BBC have never had a programme on the damage secondary moderns did or praising comprehensives. Most BBC people are from the private sector

the BBC needs to be seen as the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, which is where Orwell got the model from. But they will report on developments and love reports. SO a report if compiled giving the evidence and directly refuting what the tories say would do the job,

Question is, who will produce and market such an initiative? Blogging won't do it.

Trevor Fisher,

agov's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 13:15

It's not entirely about the BBC (appalling though it is).

Recently (- sorry, don't quite know when but probably a Sunday morning, perhaps last weekend) the gormless Sky News interviewer of a HT said something to the effect that although the schools he personally knew were wonderful because of the HTs we know there are lots of coasting schools. When the HT queried the assertion, he said even anecdotally we know. So that would be "even" as in 'only'.

The fact is that most 'journalists' only regurgitate what is said in press releases, most of which come from the government. As the more pointless by the day PLP largely agree with the government (if only because they are too useless to be anything but ignorant) it is unlikely there will be any change until what happened to NuLab in Scotland happens in England - the sooner the better.

Mollie Weston's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 13:18

I can name on one hand the journalists who present a fair and dispassionate view on education (Warwick Mansell being one). You are quite right it is not just the BBC.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 13:27

Trevor, your analysis is correct re how the BBC newsrooms think. I know, I've worked for them. Many moons ago, I ought to add. In those days they worked on scheduled press releases, reacted to ministers making statements, reacted to events and kept a very close eye on the national papers, which, as is known, mostly lean to the right. The last fact of the matter is very problematic, because unconscious bias creeps in or just reinforces existing bias. Listening to and watching the output with this background my overwhelming impression is that it's still the same.

I would argue, because I worked for them, that the magazine programmes and social affairs programmes give education a fairer shout. You and Yours recently held a phone in on academies canvassing listeners' views about them. In the introduction here's what Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said about academies uk-wide (Tues 3rd Feb 15)
Presenter, Winifred Robinson: "Would it be fair to say they (Wales, Scotland and N Ireland) are looking at it or definitely not in the home nations?"
Brian Lightman: "We're not detecting any interest in the other nations"
In television there was a big response to the 'Educating...' series and the thing which got me started was Fiona's 'The Best for My Child' (going back a bit there). But yes, thin pickings on the whole.

Re the BBC's social make-up, my impression working at production level was that it was a good mix, BUT the further up the food chain you went, the less that was true. The attitudes they displayed towards state education was rather like those Ratty, Badger, Mole and Toad held towards the stoats and weasels of the wild woods.

But as you correctly say, they DO love a report, particularly a 'contrary' one swimming against the tide, so the question is indeed, who would do one? Time to start casting about. Sutton Trust? Kings Fund?

In the meantime, I registered to become a Labour supporter for all sorts of reasons, but a large factor in my joining was to press the education point. They give you a box in which to express your reasons for joining. Paragraphs later, I sent it off. Not unreasonable to ask the Labour party to speak up for and even show interest in the sector which educates 93% of the school population.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 18:24

I tried responding to Michele's comment, the answer being we have to do any report. But the captcha device would not work. So it was lost. The point remains, hope this gets to work this time

trevor fisher,

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sat, 23/05/2015 - 22:38

When it comes to a report, I've always thought Janet did a bang up job on researching the facts. LSN has the facts already. It's a question of framing them in a way that would attract attention. And then there is the holy grail of news: a peg on which to hang a story.

Newsrooms are the hardest to convince. Do the education correspondents at the national papers and in television and radio read LSN feeds? If they did - and wised to act upon one - they would be looking for spokespeople - "good talkers" - from whom to harvest comment.

Lack of interest among the general public about education - possibly because they're so ill informed - is a huge problem. Last Thursday's Question Time (BBC 1 after the news) saw a panel featuring Nicky Morgan and in a week when she has decreed that 'coasting' schools will be forcibly academised, not a single question emerged. Maybe one was tabled but never made it past the production crew. Media folk often find education a yawn. Unless it involves run-away would-be junior jihadis, that is.

A huge shame, because I think Owen Jones would give the subject a good go. I've heard him before on education. But the ideal would be to get proper and fair analysis of our current system. Something along the lines of: what problem are academies the answer to?

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sun, 24/05/2015 - 09:44

Trevor, can you remember the title of the R4 programme on grammar schools? I've rifled through the iplayer archive for File on 4 but don't find it under that title.

I should mention that one audience member in Question Time from Derby last week asked about funding for post 16 education in the light of discussion about apprenticeships. Nicky Morgan hastily assured that the DfE were looking at that. Still, the lady in the audience managed to raise it.

Re academies and their agendas, my niece who is sitting AS levels in Essex has been told that she needs to gain 3 D's in order to be allowed to stay on and study for A levels. I watch from over the border and shudder. Do we have any contributors in Scotland and N Ireland who could bring their experiences here to bear? I worry education is being balkanised.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sun, 24/05/2015 - 09:56

the issue of the education agenda being off the media picture even when the ed sec is on a programme is a big one, and we need to discuss it separately from the academy issue.

On any report countering government propaganda, we would have to focus on the select committee report, and ask why this - and all the other reports - are ignored in the Westminster bubble. The only way media will react if we can convince them there is a cover up going on. But do not use that word.

Ideally anti academies alliance should lead but that's not the best way forward,they are automatically dismissed. Reclaim Education would be better, but always the issue is the paradigm - the fact that comprehensive education has been dismissed within the bubble. A blog site cannot begin to do this work, so what organisations can be brought into the frame?

Education is now balkanized, and the biggest split is the public-state split over exams. That the private schools are now being excluded from performance tables offers a real chance to rubbish the government agenda, but its not currently an issue. Certainly not one to blog about.

The treatment of students is appalling, and I will contact you separately on the issue of your niece. As E is a pass grade at AS level I cannot see the proposition is legal. NUS should take this up

trevor Fisher

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 25/05/2015 - 04:46

Why is it assumed that significant year-on-year improvement of SATs and GCSE C grade results is a good thing?

See the research in the first part of my paper here.


This suggests that your child is likely to be better off in a 'coasting' school rather than one that is constantly striving for acclaim and league table success. I would advise parents to avoid 'outstanding schools'. Your child's individual developmental needs are likely to be well down the Executive Management Teams's priorities.

DfE and OfSTED acceptable target setting seems to require incremental increases in SATs L4 and GCSE C grade attainment rates of at least 10 per cent per year. I mean incremental improvements of 10 percent not 10 percentage points. A compound interest calculation shows that this results in a doubling every 7 years.

This is obvious nonsense.

Is Eton College a coasting school?

We are in an 'Alice in Wonderland' educational world where rubbish is constantly spouted as if it was obvious fact and is reflected back to us by mega-dimbo commentators in the national media.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 19:56

A very basic and simple act would be if all the labour Mps actually turned to oppose the new bill. Only 80% of Labour MPs actually bothered turning up to oppose the last Academy bill ....mind you it was the last day of Parliament ( or close to)...

Brian's picture
Wed, 27/05/2015 - 08:22

Labour have nothing to say on education. It's pointless expecting any serious opposition of Government plans, or even a rigorous scrutiny. If the answer isn't 'we wouldn't allow unqualified teachers in classrooms' then don't ask Labour the question.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 27/05/2015 - 08:51

Brian is right. The speed with which the Labour leadership contenders have distanced themselves from the policies on which the election was fought is shocking. This is likely to include the modest but important moves on education.

This shock is matched only by the sheer vacuity of their empty waffle about 'aspiration'. Ed Miliband directly addressed the two most important aspirations: access to a warm affordable home free from the risk of eviction and access to a proper, secure job that provides a regular, guaranteed living wage.

Burnham is a shallow opportunist. The rest are platitudinous lightweights offering nothing substantially different to the appalling Cameron.

Labour did not loose because of Ed Miliband's policies: they were popular. In my view there were three main factors, none of which were connected with policy offers.
1. Failure to counter the the oft repeated but false claim that the last Labour government was responsible for the 2008 financial crash.
2. Successful exploitation of fear of the influence of the SNP.
3. Failure to combat working class drift to UKIP.

The future for education in England is now almost unbearably bleak.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 28/05/2015 - 05:48

Nancy Bailey (USA) is well worth following. See her latest post on Charter Schools.


The parallel with the Academy (privatisation) agenda here is striking.

The enduring lesson is that ideology is generally unaffected by evidence and this is especially true of the 'public sector good - private sector bad', now liberated, triumphant, rampant and rampaging free marketeers that are now running UK Ltd and destroying the public sector in a mad, bad race to divert public money and assets into private hands.

The other day I was fortunate to accost my electricity meter reader. He works for G4S!

This is multiple outsourcing - parasites preying on parasites with the public paying the bills. A Burns poem comes to mind.

I say fortunate, because we have an Economy 7 meter and over the years numerous disputes with useless energy companies have arisen through meter readers getting the high and low rate readings the wrong way round. My G4S man was having the same problem with our meter until I explained it to him. Such meters are common where we live as there is no gas supply. He confessed to me that he hadn't got a clue and that there are now many different Economy 7 meters (having been installed by different electricity supply companies, some like Powergen who changed ours, no longer exist) that present their readings in different ways. I wonder about the poor sod's employment contract and training.

Sorry for this off-track rant.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 28/05/2015 - 21:11

Sorry - I meant 'private sector good - public sector bad'!

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