You may have seen the list of the 400 “worst primaries in England”, according to M. Gove. If not, you can download it here: Primaries.
I am not about to re-visit the bone of contention that is academy status among Lib Dem colleagues, but I do think we have to look very carefully at the whole issue of forcing schools to become academies–and look at it as Liberal Democrats, who value both devolution of powers and liberalism.
I know that those to the right of the party will say that there is nothing liberal about allowing children to fail–and they are absolutely correct. Since I became a councillor in May this year, I have had an insight into the problems there can be in local authorities in responding to problems in schools (and in other areas of local responsibility) innovatively and effectively. So where a school is in dire need and failing students, something has to be done, as it is simply not acceptable to waste children’s life chances.
I know that those to the left of the party will say that the local authority has an almost divine right to oversee schools in their area–and they are correct to the extent that an effective and skilled local body can and should be the most sensible way of overseeing the effectiveness of schools, and allocating resources and school places according to highly variable local demographics, local context and local aspirations. They are also right that there is at least a democratic mandate involved which means that local authorities can be held to account through local elections, which is several steps removed where the accountable body–sorry, I mean person–is the Secretary of State.
These are generalisations and there are obviously a variety of views on the vexed issue of academies within the party. But I think we can all feel slightly (at least) uncomfortable about forcing 400 schools to become academies.
For a start, how do we assess which are the worst performing schools, especially now the contextual value added measure has disappeared? Then, how are local factors taken into consideration? Finally, how are parents’ views taken into account? Of course, it is Ofsted’s opinion that is wholly taken into account in deciding the 400. So then for us, there is the nagging discomfort that Ofsted is now judged by many to have become politicised.
In addition, we must be forced to ask: are academies the answer, where schools are failing? Do they represent the single, shining, silver bullet? Empirically speaking, we are too early into the process of academisation to accurately report on their effectiveness, surely?
I am sure that many MPs in your areas, as well as In North Yorkshire, got the tip off a few weeks ago when the letter from Michael Gove arrived explaining to them how there were so many schools “failing” in their local authority. We knew what must be coming. But still the feeling of discomfort that this approach resembles that of a blunt instrument–one that is potentially unfair and possibly does in fact not best serve children or the communities where they live.
How do others feel, and what have you experienced in your area?
* Helen Flynn is a Harrogate Borough Councillor and is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for Harrogate & Knaresborough. She is an elected Council member of the Social Liberal Forum, and Vice Chair of the Lib Dem Education Association.