Years ago I knew a man who swore only one treatment was needed for all ills: brimstone and treacle. Regular doses of this brew would fight colds, carbuncles and constipation.
There’s little concrete evidence for the efficacy of this concoction but his faith in it was undimmed. His doctor suggested there might be better remedies for his ailments but he was not swayed.
Academy conversion is Nicky Morgan’s brimstone and treacle. It’s a foolproof cure for ‘failing’ schools, ‘underperforming’ schools and ‘coasting schools’ which don’t convince her they’re going to speed up. Like Mrs Squeers at Dotheboys Hall, she will force the mixture down throats and coerce schools, under threat of sacking the head and imposing a sponsor, to ‘take in the whole of the bowl at a gasp’.
Nothing will persuade Nicky Morgan that there are other solutions which would help struggling schools – support from another school or guidance from a local authority, for example. In her medicine cabinet there is only one remedy: the brimstone and treacle of academy conversion.
She has been warned by an influential all-party House of Commons group, the Education Select Committee, not to exaggerate the success of her cure. But she ignores them. The National Audit Office found other, less formal, therapies are more effective. She ignores them too. Only half of the sponsored academies were pronounced Good or better after the imposition of her medicine. But that doesn’t matter. Schools will take brimstone and treacle whether they gag on it or not. And a proposed clause to be entered into the Education Act will force governing bodies and local authorities to take the drug. Their democratic right to oppose the therapy will be removed.
And if it doesn’t work (and it hasn’t done so in the 50% of sponsored academies which were judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate at their first inspection after treatment) what does Nurse Morgan propose to do? This isn’t clear. Will she offer a different brand in the form of a new sponsor? Or will she let sponsors carry on regardless?
Blind allegiance to one treatment has the whiff of fundamentalism about it. It doesn’t quite match the British Values rhetoric when one person has the power to enforce schools to take medicine whether they want to or not.