The Government will today introduce the Education and Adoption Bill which will, it is claimed, 'speed up the turnaround of failing schools’.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan
said the proposed measures would ‘sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes’ which slow up academy conversion. It’s unclear what these loopholes are – the requirement to consult, already limited to unspecified ‘stakeholders’, perhaps? Or the ‘technicality
’ which allows a staff member on a school’s governing body to halt academy conversion by voting against?
Technicalities aside, the Government has shown contempt for the Education Select Committee which said bluntly in January:
‘…the Government should stop exaggerating the success of academies…’
The Committee wasn’t alone in pointing out that academy conversion isn’t a magic bullet. The National Audit Office
found informal interventions such as local support were more effective (and considerably cheaper, of course) than formal interventions like academy conversion.
But despite the mounting pile of evidence showing turning schools into academies isn’t a cure-all, the Government plans to force more schools to convert and crush any opposition.
Why, then, is the Government relentlessly pursuing a policy which evidence increasingly shows doesn’t always work?
A cynic might say it’s to pave the way for for-profit education providers running English state schools supported by think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange (2010 see addendum below). But whatever the reason – face-saving, perhaps, after so much Department for Education hot-air has been expended promoting academies – the latest DfE propaganda follows a familiar furrow.
First there’s blather about how obstructive forces stand in the way of academy knights who want to rescue pupils ‘languishing in underperforming schools’. But rescue, in the form of forcing schools to become an academy with a sponsor, has resulted in ‘improvement’ in just 50% of the schools which took the cure. As James Croft pointed out in his article promoting for-profit schools (see here
for critique), half of sponsored academies are judged Inadequate or Requires Improvement at their first inspection post-conversion. And, as the Education Select Committee said, ‘Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.’
But according to Morgan, who charges on like a blinkered cart horse, fast-tracking ‘poor schools’ to academy status will bring about miraculous transformation
. ‘Strong academy sponsors’, she says, will turn failing schools into outstanding provision. But E-Act, AET, The Kemnal Academies Trust, CfBT Schools Trust, School Partnership Trust and Woodard Academies Trust are among academy trusts which have been sent letters expressing concern about performance on more than one occasion. And others* have been paused from taking on more schools.
The second familiar characteristic of DfE academy spin is the praise from 'leading heads' - CEOs or Executive Principals of academy trusts saying how academy sponsors work miracles. But as we’ve seen, turning schools into academies doesn’t always work. And non-academies in similar circumstances do just as well without the attendant hype.
Ignoring evidence, spurning advice and wheeling out cheerleaders – Morgan uses strategies familiar from the Gove era to push an expensive policy which, despite all the spin, is not guaranteed to improve schools. In some cases the schools stagnate or fall backwards. The treatment hasn’t worked – in medicine, a procedure which had only 50% success rate would be considered high risk. But Morgan is zealous in imposing this quackery on more schools in England.
*Details of academy chains paused in March 2014 are available here
. Tales of extravagance, cancelled GCSE courses, complaints from a charity about damage to its ‘commercial operations’ and a for-profit Swedish provider who told his ‘Conservative friends’ his firm could increase test results while saving more than 20% in costs.
This is a companion piece to Henry Stewart’s article, ‘An education policy based on ideology not evidence’.
5 June 2015. Jonathan Simons, Policy Exchange, wishes to make it clear that he does not think 'there should be a profit motive in mainstream education' and Policy Exchange does not endorse “for profit providers running English state schools” (see comments below).
The 2010 reference (which was not in the original article) is to a Policy Exchange report, Blocking the Best
, which advocated allowing schools in England to be run for profit. The report said this could be achieved with no changes in the Law by making state schools 'independent'. They could then outsource their operation to a for-profit provider. Academies and free schools are, of course, technically 'independent'. The free school, IES Breckland, has outsourced its running to Swedish for-profit education provider, IES,
At the launch of Blocking the Best
, Michael Gove (then shadow education secretary) said he would let groups like Serco run schools (see YouTube clip
, at about 24 minutes). Towards the end of the clip, a Policy Exchange spokesperson said Policy Exchange would 'nudge' education policy towards allowing for-profit chains to operate in England.