The petition to scrap plans to force state schools to become academies will not be debated despite attracting more than 100,000 responses.
Instead, the Department for Education (DfE) has responded hoping this will defuse opposition. It will not.
First, the DfE confirms it intends to convert all schools in the ‘worst-performing authorities’. This will mean good and outstanding schools will be forced to become academies if the average performance for the whole area is below the national figure. Forcibly converting good or better schools is unacceptable.
Second, the DfE trots out the usual misleading statements:
- ‘1.4 million more young people in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.’ But this has more to do with changes in the way Ofsted inspects schools. In any case, the increase in the proportion of such schools is in the primary sector where academies are in the minority. It is not in the heavily-academised secondary sector.
- ‘…academies…don’t have to follow a single ‘right’ way of doing things determined elsewhere.’ Academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs) can be forced to follow centrally-decided curriculum or methodology. This has never been the case with local authorities.
- ‘All schools becoming academies presents a fundamental shift of power from local and central government…’ First, local authorities do not control schools. Second, central government still imposes conditions on schools, academies included, which are policed via the testing regime and Ofsted.
- ‘…academisation can lead to rapid improvements.’ Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: ‘It’s clear that becoming an academy can lead to improvement, but it does not insulate schools from decline.’
- ‘HMCI confirmed his belief that it is right to give more autonomy to the front line…’ In which case, it’s hard to see why pushing schools into MATs which remove autonomy from the ‘front line’ is promoted so hard by the Government.
- ‘The vast majority of schools which have become academies are now thriving…’ The description ‘vast’ suggests a significant majority. At secondary level, that’s only true for converter academies. These were mostly schools already good or outstanding and were, therefore, ‘thriving’ before conversion. The ‘vast’ majority of sponsored secondary academies are not good or outstanding. In December 2015, 47%% were judged less than good.
There is no evidence to support the view that academies as a group perform better than non-academies. Henry Stewart’s analysis found sponsored academies are more likely to stay inadequate or become inadequate. The UK Statistics Authority* criticised the DfE for not making it clear ‘the statistics could not be used to infer a causal link between school type and either attainment or rates of improvement.’ The National Audit Office found informal methods such as local support were more effective in improving schools than formal methods such as academy conversion.
The removal of mandatory conversion from the Education White Paper is not a U-turn but a tactical retreat. The Government is still committed to converting all England’s schools into academies. That has not changed.
*Letter from UKSA to Ian Bell at DfE (6 July 2015) downloadable here.