Ed Sec: forced conversion of inadequate schools remains despite evidence that academization isn’t a magic bullet

Janet Downs's picture
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Schools judged ‘coasting’ will no longer have to become academies, Education Secretary Damian Hinds is ‘expected to say’ today.  

But schools judge inadequate will still be ‘forcibly’ converted.

I believe strongly that becoming an academy can bring enormous benefits to schools. Hundreds of schools every year voluntarily choose to become academies and I want this to be a positive choice for more and more schools as we move forward,’ he’s expected to say.

But ‘belief’ isn’t enough.  The National Audit Office (2014) found that most inadequate schools are upgraded at their next inspection.  The most successful intervention, the NAO discovered, was not ‘formal intervention’ such as academy conversion.   Schools were more likely to improve if they were subject to informal intervention such as local support.

Hinds is expected to say there will be a ‘single data trigger for schools to be offered support’.  This will be decided during consultation.

It’s welcome that Hinds recognises the importance of support but disappointing that he still believes enforced academy conversion is the only option for inadequate schools.  It isn’t.  And it would be more cost-effective to offer support to inadequate schools rather than pursue the nuclear option.

The Department for Education (DfE) press release announcing what Hinds is expected to say reprieved the oft-quoted sound bite: ‘there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.’   As we’ve noted before, repeating the same phrase risks it becoming a joke (think Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ government and ‘magic money tree’).    And the 1.9 million figure appears to have stagnated – does this mean there’s been no improvement since the figure was first announced several months ago?

Schools Week appears to have seen the document which fleshes out what Hinds is expected to say.  But it’s not yet available on the DfE website.  It’s not possible, therefore, to check what Hinds is expected to say with what he actually did.  The DfE has form when it comes to putting words in Hinds’ mouth.  

Support for schools will, according to Schools Week, ‘come from a MAT, an accredited system leader such as a teaching school, or a school improvement provider using evidence-based programmes.’

No mention of local authorities there.  And the words ‘evidence-based programmes’ raise the question about who decides what ‘evidence’ is used to assess the validity of teaching methods.  We know that schools minister Nick Gibb, for example, only values evidence which reinforces his own prejudices.  

It’s also encouraging that Hinds has recognised that more action is needed to improve teacher recruitment and retention.   He’s expected to announce a £5m fund to pay teachers’ wages during a one-year secondment.   But £5m would only benefit 218 of England’s 457,300 teachers even if the seconded teachers were paid at the bottom of the pay scale (£22,917 pa).

Retention problem solved, then?

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