Enforced academisation plan is “bonkers”

The chairman of the Conservative 1922 backbench committee and Tory councillors are reported to be angry with the government’s plan to force 17,000 schools in England to become academies by 2020.

Melinda Tilley, cabinet member for education in Oxfordshire said:

I suppose I’m going to have to suck it up but I think they’ve gone bonkers. We made a really determined effort to keep all the academies in our family of schools in Oxfordshire. We had them come in and talk to us about what we could do to help.

I’m still blinking into the light on this one. It’s a bit like slipping down the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland”. What? All schools?

First of all, I’m just getting my head around the numbers. My googling suggests there are 17,000 primary schools in England and 82% of those are local authority schools. There are 3,127 maintained secondary schools in England. So we are talking about roughly 17,000 schools which will be forced to undergo a major change in their management in four years.

And can I ask why? If schools are performing well, why should they need to change? And if academisation is so brilliant, why do schools have to be forced to do it?

And why would anyone want schools with no parent governors? Not even one?

Often the parent governor is the governor who is able to give the inside story: “Well actually my David says that the teachers are doing that all the time” or “some of the kids get away with that” or whatever.

And while 17,000 schools are going round in circles becoming academies in four years, what will happen to their focus on children’s education?

It doesn’t make any sense at all.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '16 - 2:15pm

    It’s time we started to look at the big picture. The purpose is simple: to put all schools in the hands of private sector run academy chains (whatever they may pretend to be ion the meantime) so that the schools system can – in the next big stage – be privatised and commercialised.

    Some Tories want this for ideological reasons. For the rest it’s all about handing over public assets to their rich corporate pals and funders.

    The current policy is so irrational that it can only be understood in this context.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '16 - 2:16pm

    Good letter in today’s Grauniad from Shirley Williams about primary academisation. Shirley and I moved an amendment to the Academies Bill nearly six years ago. If the Liberal Democrat party leadership had had more spine we could have excluded them then.

    Tony Greaves

  • I gather the Chairman of the 1922 Committee has come out against Osborne’s Academisation. Time to put on maximum pressure and maximum publicity by the entire Lib Dem party leadership.

  • How can we stop this b@stard child of New Labour and the Tory Right? I’ve become accquainted with academies since my child became disabled and it seems like the secondary school he will attend will be an academy – yet to be built. Children are not customers. Removing parents from Governance completely is bizarre. Academies are effectively gifted millions of pounds of assets and the council controls they are escaping are the framework that has developed over time to protect our children. Unfortunately while the Lib Dems may have delayed this by a few years, they are now so diminished that they are in no position to do much now.

  • As Agent for a local Town Council byelection this month, I am using a quote from Shirley Williams’s letter to back up criticism of this mad plan – sounds a bit retro: “send a strong message to the Conservative Government…. Vote Lib Dem”. Be interesting to see the reaction.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Apr '16 - 9:23pm

    I personally feel the argument that parents are unqualified to be governors if taken not that much further, ends with citizens being unqualified to be jurors or voters.

    Effectively, it is an argument that citizens do not deserve to have a stake in the services they receive, whereas commercial interests who provide the service on behalf government, deserve the lion’s share of the control.

    I’m still preferring the phrase, ‘centralised, corporatized state’ – this is a new paradigm, beyond either nationalisation or privatisation, combining the worst of both.

  • @ Simon Shaw. “It’s far worse than privatisation. It’s nationalisation”.

    Sorry to disagree, Simon. It’s privatisation with state subsidies with no accountability to local communities. We’ve had a form of state education since the Liberal Government passed the Forster Act.

    What I am curious about is how the planned legislation will deal with Catholic, C of E and other faith schools – something the Tories came unstuck on in 1904…….. But then politicians haven’t got much of a clue about history these days…….

  • nigel hunter 3rd Apr '16 - 10:47pm

    I have been listening to More or Less on the BBC (get it on the I player) It gives useful information on what the Education Secretary says. It does not back her up with the facts.

  • I have huge concerns about any school that feels the need to have a “business manager” and any Government that thinks that Schools should be run as a “Business”. Simon Shaw is more than a little right, it is Nationalising decision making to enable wholesale privatisation. Most Tories will fall in line and with the Lib Dems marginalised by lack on numbers in the Commons and Labour more badly led than at any time in my memory (and that is saying something) I feel that the like of Tony Greaves and like minded cross party colleagues in the Lords may be the best hope.

    I’d be interested whether this bill will be classed as a Financial one and therefore limit the Lords ability to scrutinise???

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Apr '16 - 2:34am

    Lord Greaves , is right, Simon Shaw is right , David Raw is right , it is privatisation, commercialisation and nationalisation ! With the added outrage of the lack of parental involvement not only on school bodies but in the whole setting up of the wretched Academies, this policy is worse than nonsense .It takes a lot to put me with the entirity of the list I support above , on a single policy , but as someone who considers myself to be in the radical centre of our party , why its not such a surprise but is welcome !

  • Peter Watson 4th Apr '16 - 7:51am

    @Lorenzo Cherin “Lord Greaves , is right, Simon Shaw is right , David Raw is right , it is privatisation, commercialisation and nationalisation !”
    And Lorenzo is right!
    I completely agree. Centralising/nationalising the management of the schools system looks like a step towards privatising the ownership and provision of those schools.
    It could also lead to a “money follows the pupil” model, which would allow the tax payer to subsidise wealthier parents who currently opt out of the state school system.
    I think it is great that Lib Dems appear to be mobilising around opposition to this, and even better, that opposition is more than simply disagreeing with the compulsory nature of academisation. But how clear and consistent is the party’s position and record on this issue? How many of the the diminished party’s MPs opposed this when they were in the more powerful position of Coalition government? (https://www.libdemvoice.org/six-lib-dem-mps-rebel-on-coalitions-academies-bill-20484.html) Tony Greaves and John Pugh seem to be consistent and principled on this, but what of the rest of the parliamentary party?

  • Donald Smith 4th Apr '16 - 8:28am

    Can we please stop frothing at the mouth every time the word academy is mentioned? I am not a teacher, but I have a long career in education, and have recently spent 6 years as a governor of a secondary school which has recently become part of the Multi-Academy Trust with local primary schools.

    Academies are charitable trusts and limited companies which are barred from being run for profit. Only a minority of academies are sponsored (the original Labour model). Many more are converter academies. There are many different kinds of academy chain. A few are badly run, and a few pay disproportionate salaries to their managers. Some academies outperform the average schools, some do not. There is a wide variety of academy out there. We need more nuance in the debate about whether they are a good thing or not.

    (The only source I can find in a quick search for the number and style of chains is this The growth of academy chains: implications for leaders and leadership from the National College for School Leadership).

    My instinct 10 years ago was against academies because they remove schools from local authority support. I would still prefer that local authority support to be there. But, that is not going to happen without radical reform of local government and its funding. My experience as governor was of a school beginning to think for itself, look long-term and take on responsibility for its own future. It seemed a lot to me like old-style community politics in action!! Local groups doing it for themselves. Empowering and emancipating schools and head teachers. Democracy from the bottom up rather than provision of education from the top down.

    The real problem with the government’s plans are the removal of parent governors, which undermine the democratic model of school governance, and the potential role of the Secretary of State as overlord of all academies.

    I have no problem with the academy as a self-run collective operating on behalf of its students. I have a big problem with un-democratic academies subject to central dictat.

    Could we not think more deeply and less in a knee-jerk way about what a Liberal Democrat schools system would look like – one with devolved powers, democratic and accountable to parents? We might come up with something that had certain features in common with academies but with greater safeguards against outside political or commercial interference.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Apr '16 - 9:28am

    I think I will listen to teachers past and present.

  • Academies are charitable trusts and limited companies

    And there is nothing preventing the designating of a Parent and LEA trustee position in their Articles of Association.

    Hence given the existing board of governors includes such representatives, we have to ask just what they were doing when they approved the application for the school to become an Academy…

    Whilst I share many people’s concerns, there is nothing stopping the LEA taking the lead on this and creating an academy chain…

  • “…but I have a long career in education, and have recently spent 6 years as a governor of a secondary school which has recently become part of the Multi-Academy Trust with local primary schools.” Donald Smith 4th Apr ’16 – 8:28am

    This style of Academy can create problems. One of my local Academy’s has taken on a local primary school; unfortunately this has had negative effects on the other primary schools in the cluster. Basically it is spending the monies it receives to support the cluster on the ‘inhouse’ primary school. The most obvious (to parents) outcome from this, has been the reduction in (local) inter-school sport because the school no longer see’s the need to host tournaments or help with the organisation of leagues and matches.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Apr '16 - 12:03pm

    Simon Shaw: what is happening is that the government is seizing central control over schools (via the obscure regional commissioners) but putting them under the operational control of trusts which are mainly private-sector based. This will allow them in the next phase to commercialise them under the guise of “setting them free from state control” and “decentralisation”.

    What we need as a party is a new worked out policy to transfer them (including their academy powers) to democratic (local authority) monitoring and supervision (not “control”). Among other things that would be a chance to get rid of the hugely illiberal national curriculum once and for all.

    Tony Greaves

  • I’d like to know what John Pugh was referring to when he mentioned a disagreement with Tim Farron in the speech quoted above. I’ve tried to locate this in Hansard but can’t find it. I suspect a few coalition pigeons coming home to roost.

    Second, it now appears it will cost over £ 1 billion to pursue Osborne and Morgan’s plan – including a shed load from local authorities of over £ 12k per school.

    Tony has mentioned possible melt down for the party – I for one will find it near impossible to support the party if it fails to score from this Tory given opportunity to stand up for local government and cooperation between neighbouring schools instead of devil take the hindmost. The same goes for the Trident fudge where the new leader was hemmed in by the old guard – and for a clear economic strategy to tackle inequality.

    If the party fails to develop radical strategies then what’s the point ?

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Apr '16 - 3:38pm

    Donald Smith argues that academies aren’t so bad because most are not yet run by sponsors. The government is hoping to attract more sponsors like Tory donor and carpet magnate, Lord Harris, as sponsored academies is their preferred model. In this way of thinking, business people know better than local authorities how to run schools and that is why parent governors are in line to be axed.

    Afterall, according to the dogma, only people with the ‘right skills’ ie: business acumen, can run schools. Parents are ‘vested interests,’ and so should be kept away from participating in the running of schools. Schools are not a community endeavour but a business with children as the consumers.

    During the last government, Michael Gove was blocked by the Lib Dems from allowing academies to be run for profit. Does anyone really think that Michael Gove and George Osborne have dropped this long term ideologically driven plan?

    Their dream is to centralise education as a precursor to selling it off to the highest bidder, fundamentally weakening the bargaining power of the unions, and putting class teachers, (another ‘vested interest’ according to the ideology), at the mercy of Heads and academy executives.

    This party has got to fight this appalling ideological assault on education.

  • Donald Smith 4th Apr '16 - 10:20pm

    I repeat my question – what would a Liberal Democrat school system look like? Can we come up with a constructive proposal?

  • Jamie Dalzell 5th Apr '16 - 6:35pm

    @Donald Smith; I would argue that we must agree principles first and then use those to determine detailed structures (and my own experience of education suggests that the biggest priority is putting good teaches in front of small enough class sizes; which does not automatically exclude Academies).

    First off, we exist to build a fair, free and open society: education is the keystone to this and should be a major priority (and therefore seek a well funded and protected schools system). This also means that any school system must be intrinsically inclusive so that the most vulnerable children are guaranteed support and the help they need.

    We believe in strengthening democracy by disseminating power. Fundamentally this means that we want the lowest level of government to be accountable for our schools and to ensure parents (and pupils) have significant influence.

    We believe that diversity brings strength. When structuring a school system, more options seems like a good idea (unlike this government’s diktat).

    We build our policies based on evidence. In a relatively enclosed system like education (I would also include Justice), this means I would like to see a system that does encourage trying our new things but then build wider policy based on evidence (including expert opinion).

    Pulling this all into a grand structure is very hard. However, the Cameron government policy seems to be doing contradicting every principle: they have not explained how they still stop results pressure leading to the exclusion of the vulnerable, they are undermining accountability and centralising power, they removing diversity (both in structure and teacher training routes) whilst ignoring all evidence and experience opinion.

    On that basis, killing these reforms seems like a good start for moving towards a more liberal school system.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Apr '16 - 12:24pm

    I am for academies where and when they add to the mix and are assessed as a good idea locally .This should be done as a partnership , with local government given a light touch role in them , and the national government too !

    Donald Smith seems a sensible input above , and asks what our proposals should be. They should not be academies are bad or good but only as bad or good as we make them !

    The devil is in the detail . the detailed plans of this government can and are being unravelled as undemocratic nonsense !

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