The Government finally “nationalises” all our schools

So the government has finally decided to nationalise our nation’s schools. At least we now know where we stand. So, if an academy fails under the new system, the buck goes straight to the Secretary of State and not, as now, to the Local Education Authority (which, I assume will simply disappear).

When are we going to stop messing about with education? We are dealing with human beings, not building motor cars, for goodness sake. I note that the current secretary, like most of her cabinet colleagues, was educated privately. In the independent sector, business acumen and PR are part of the DNA of its member schools. “Sell yourself or go under”- and a few actually do!

Some have you may be aware of the goings on at an academy chain in Lincoln where the former Executive Head and his Director of Finance recently went on trial and, to many local people’s amazement, were acquitted.  Only this week it was announced that another secondary academy, the one I taught at for 23 years, is having to face redundancies because of some of its grants being cut. Now it is planned also to remove parent representatives from governing bodies, what chance will the local community have to influence their schools?

Our state schools should be places where teaching takes place, unburdened by the need to make money or to attract sponsors. The time was when Heads and other senior staff were appointed on educational criteria and not for a facility in public relations.

If all schools, especially primary schools, are forced to become academies, many will be forced, because of a lack of business acumen, into chains, so, instead of LEAs, we will probably have privatised ‘LEAs’, controlled, if that is the right word, by one of the regional Schools Commissioners already in place to deal with the many academies already in existence. Yes, we have one for the East Midlands and Humber Region. Her name is Jennifer Bexon-Smith, at least, that’s what Google tells me. Has anybody ever heard of her? Apparently she’s been in post since September 2014. She’ll certainly have her work cut out if all this takes place!

State schools should not have to sell themselves to the public. We should expect them to deliver an education which will equip our youngsters for life in this very turbulent 21st century. Happiness and fulfilment should be more than just a shedload of GCSE’s or an ology degree. It should contain skills that enable the owner to play their part in building a vibrant economy. Schools stand a much better chance of achieving this noble aim if they are subject to local democratic accountability and not just competing for a better position in the exam league tables.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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32 Comments

  • Sadie Smith 23rd Mar '16 - 5:15pm

    Apparently without compensation but not under workers control.

  • Agree with all that, John.

    What is hard to understand is how Nikki Morgan (or is it George Osborne ?) can proceed after the huge criticism in a report by the Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw.

    LINKS : “Ofsted chief criticises academy chains | Education | The …
    http://www.theguardian.com › Education › Academies
    10 Mar 2016 – Sir Michael Wilshaw criticises performance of seven multi-academy ..”

    Ofsted criticises England’s largest academy chain By Jess Brown | 05 February 2016

    “The largest academy chain in England is failing too many pupils, particulary ones from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ofsted has warned. Ofsted says England’s largest academy chain is failing pupils. The inspectorate said that almost half of pupils at secondary schools run by the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) are in schools that are “less than good”.

    Meanwhile around 40 per cent of children at primary schools run by AET do not receive an acceptable level of education. Children from poor backgrounds do particularly badly in the trust, states a letter sent from Ofsted to the chief executive of AET following an inspection of seven of the chain’s schools in November last year, as well as telephone conversations with a further 18.
    – See more at: http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/1155860/ofsted-criticises-englands-largest-academy-chain#sthash.lLYtyJz7.dpuf.

  • This is a major opportunity for the Lib Dems to mount a massive (and justified) campaign.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Mar '16 - 5:34pm

    ‘Our state schools should be places where teaching takes place, unburdened by the need to make money or to attract sponsors.’

    Indeed. How, for instance, does Nicky Morgan think small rural schools are going to manage this level of change and restructuring? Will they be forced to cast their lot in with a local philanthropist, a Mr Creakle figure, ( in David Copperfield, Creakle was in the Hop business before taking up the schooling business), who spots an opportunity to make a name for himself and throw his weight about?

    Add to this the tantalising opportunity in the white paper, to throw more unqualified teachers ‘with the right skills’ into the classroom, and the Dickensian nightmare is just starting for small rural primaries and indeed other schools…

  • Jamie Dalzell 23rd Mar '16 - 5:52pm

    I think my views have been heard enough already, but I am very glad to have other wiser heads than mine highlighting the myriad of issues we now face in education.

    I do keep Googling “Liberal Democrats Forced Academisation” but currently there does appear to be anything at all coming from our MPs or our Lords. I know there is A LOT going on right now, but this surely must be one of the biggest issues that we must face up to. Such erosion of the accountability of schools will inevitably lead to deteriorating standards of education and, as the current US Republican primaries illustrate*, likely undermine the long-term success and stability of our nation.

    I am however very glad to see our own Local Government Association come out with a suitable briefing:

    https://www.aldc.org/news/lga-lib-dems-update-forced-academisation-and-devolution-report/

    I hope our parliamentarians soon follow suit.

    *I assume that Godwin’s Law has been extended to include Donald Trump, at least for the next 8 months.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle

    And no doubt the Gradgrind figure will be Sir Greg Martin, executive head at the Durand Academies Trust – which runs a primary school in Brixton and is planning a boarding secondary school in the Sussex countryside. He earned £229,000 as a head and a further £160,000 from a company set up to run the school’s sports and fitness centre last year.

  • Ryan McAlister 23rd Mar '16 - 7:21pm

    I have been saying this for 6 years, both here and in correspondence with the party. Nobody gave a damn. Especially Sarah Teather and to a slightly lesser extent David Laws- our people in the DfE throughout the coalition.

    Nice to have some belated support though.

  • John Marriott – That’s more than a little condescending. Holding against people the decisions made by their parents when they were likely too young to have much of a say is a non-starter.

    Inverse snobbery aside, I agree that we should be mounting or joining a vigorous campaign against this. I’m a governor of a state primary school and there’s a huge amount of anxiety about this, particularly relating to the possible abolition of parent-governors.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Mar '16 - 11:16pm

    @ David Raw

    Yes, the new curriculum has been described as a Gradgrind paradise with its emphasis on lists of facts in History and rote-learning of poems and don’t forget, Michael Gove banned certain novels from being taught on the English curriculum such as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s American English and not proper…

    @Ryan McAlister

    ‘ I have been saying this for 6 years, both here and in correspondence with the party. Nobody gave a damn. ‘

    You were not alone. I lost count of numbers of letters and emails to Lib Dem ministers, MPs, as well as my own MP and members of the select committee and others.

    Many of us could see the direction of travel early on but were largely ignored especially in the first two years.

    The meme successfully planted by Michael Gove and his friends in the media was ‘something must be done’ about education, even though there was little evidence that such massive changes (Free schools, more academies, the EBac, performance pay) would make a jot of difference to improving ‘standards’ – except accelerate the rate of teachers leaving the profession (and the Party).

  • re. the Greg Martin post above. Still waiting for the Charity Commission investigation which is clearly taking longer than any investigation by a local authority :

    BBC NEWS 27 August, 2015.
    The executive head teacher of a south London academy that is being investigated by the Charity Commission is to retire. The Durand Academy in Stockwell said Sir Greg Martin, 63, would be retiring in September after 29 years.

    The trust running the academy received £17m from the government to set up a state boarding school in West Sussex, which opened last year. The Charity Commission announced its investigation in February.

  • Some of us fought the battle for 2 years immediately after the new regime took over in Dec 2007. But David Laws was absolutely committed to Academies and Nick of course wrote a pamphlet advocating Free Schools before he even entered Parliament.

  • Peter Watson 24th Mar '16 - 1:12am

    Three days and three excellent, passionate articles about schools on Lib Dem Voice. Belated perhaps, I would much rather have seen 57 Lib Dem MPs fighting this in the last parliament than 8 now, but hopefully Morgan/Gove/Osborne have stirred something in the Lib Dems.

  • John Marriott – Yes, and I was saying that that’s an extremely patronising attitude to take. I agree that it would be limited while one was at school, but one can familiarise oneself with it later. It’s not the same as going through the state system oneself, I agree, but I’d say it’s a bit much to accuse everyone who’s ever been to an independent school of the same failure of imagination and empathy.

    As for wanting state schools to emulate prep schools – well, where the latter are successful, why not? I’m currently staying with my parents here in Cambridge, and one of our local prep schools has recently won a large number of awards and accolades thanks to the work over decades of a visionary headmaster (I refer to St John’s College School). Surely it would be no bad thing to see what has worked there and see if it can be emulated by state schools.

    On the other hand, I agree with what I think is your underlying point, that it would be unwise to suppose that one can force either to become a carbon copy of the other. But the issue here is not with evil, unsympathetic public school people – it’s with a short-sighted politically-motivated decision which is being supported by Conservative ministers regardless of which school they happened to go to. And nor is the issue with the Conservatives trying to force state schools to copy public or independent schools, it’s about them effectively privatising and nationalising them in the same stroke, removing local control and accountability, and setting them up with huge areas for failure without further financial support.

    They are not planning to make all state schools fee-paying or set by ability. For which we can at least be grateful!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Mar '16 - 3:44pm

    Wait a minute folks , please !You can be utterly in favour of so called academies and free schools ,as a Liberal ,and thus a pluralist !But you cannot be in favour of forced academisation !In a very good article , what John does not do is acnowledge that pluralism in provision is a Liberal approach , and to deny it is socialism , not Liberalism .

    Alas , I see too many arguments against any variation on a theme circa 1970s, as wrapped up in social Liberalism , when they are social democrat of the old school , at best , forthright socialism , at worst !Some areas welcome a good new school out of the hands of an over politicised , ideological local authority that are incompetent.That may be an academy or a free school . So what ?!

    John is right in much of this , however. But we must recognise as Liberal Democrats , individuals have individual needs and desires .Pupils and parents .A one size fits all approach is awful however it is organised . And , I have to say the idea that so called democratic accountability is the only answer is just as awful on its own, without wider involement by those directly concerned.Yes to a local input , a representative from the council on the school governors is fine , but I want schools run by and for pupils , parents and teachers , in that order .Schools are not there to serve government , local or national , nor to serve teachers .Both are there to serve the needs of individual pupils, to the satisfaction of parents who entrust their children to schools .

    It is an opportunity to oppose the government .But if a return to the politicised local nonsense I was aware of as a boy in the 70s and 80s, is wanted by veteran Liberals of a left variety , think again , times have changed.Diversity of every kind is the new , New Liberaism !

  • David Allen 24th Mar '16 - 4:24pm

    Lorenzo,

    You say that everything must be “diverse”. I expect you see this as an opposition to the ideology that everything must be run by the state, and to the opposing ideology that everything must be left to the free market. However, I fear that yours is also a constraining, ideological approach to politics – though this may perhaps not be obvious!

    Would you like to see an “academised” (commercial) police force, and indeed “free” police forces set up by enthusiasts for different policing approaches, alongside our state-run police? That would be “diversity”!

    Would you like to see private company “tax farmers”, seeking to raise more taxes at lower cost and thus compete with HMRC? That too would be “diversity”, and since pre-revolutionary France had such a system, it isn’t a complete non-starter. But would you support it?

    If I would like to see commercial companies kept out of policing, and kept out of tax collection, and kept out of educating our children, does that make me a socialist idelogue? Or is it that the Right are the ideologues, whereas I’m just talking plain common sense?

  • John Marriott – And you still don’t seem to get mine either. I understood what you meant the first time you said it, but I still object to the characterisation. As I said above, you seem to be assuming that everybody who had a non-state education is suffering the same failure of imagination and empathy. I would say that that is unfair. An independent education should not disqualify one any more than having a state education should – the issue is not where these people were educated (at, I would remind you, their parents’ behest, not their own), but rather the approach they have. Estelle Morris was not an unqualified success as an Education secretary, so perhaps she is not the best example; the lack of state-educated Education secretaries is more of a commentary on our political system as a whole.

    The problem here isn’t that these people went to public schools, it’s that they are making patently bad decisions about the provision of state education. I don’t think it’s a particularly liberal thing to leap to the conclusion that the one necessarily entails the other.

    The long and the short of it is: don’t tar all independently educated people with the same brush.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Mar '16 - 11:58pm

    David
    You make your point well.I do not believe in either of your examples , but do share with anyone a critical approach of the monopoly of power of any government body or big corporate business.That does not mean I see government as a necessary evil , but , rather , as an enabling provider of a service , with funding , and sometimes direct provision, but not necessarily .Mostly I am for a significant input on these matters by local people and individuals, and yet , I am not a libertarian or classical liberal ideologue.
    But , your examples are not comparing apples with other apples , but , say , with lemons!
    You see, I believe education and health are far more about an individual needing and receiving an individually focussed service.Therefore many approaches are not only possible , they are desirable .Choices , on type of school or hospital , individual treatment or educational orientation , can and should mainly or only , be made in direct consultation and harmony with those involved.Health cannot or must not be run by or for the providres of the service only , and nor should education .

    I have to say , though this does not mean I favour big business involved in any way , or sponsors and the like .I do favour diversity.I was wholly educated in state Catholic schools , chosen , by me and my parents , together.What is right for me should at least be so for some others and therefore they should have that option , or another they or other pupils and parents might prefer.

    The worst option is other people dictating to pupils and parents what is right for them.Be that a Tory Education secretary of state , or a local council.

  • ACADEMIES : BBC NEWS SITE THIS MORNING :

    Plans to turn every state school in England into an academy have been criticised by Conservative councillors.Several have called for the policy to be reversed, including the councillor responsible for education in David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency.
    Melinda Tilley warned small village schools could be at risk if academy chains decided they were unviable.

    The government said it plans to ensure every English school is committed to becoming an academy by 2022. Chancellor George Osborne made the announcement during the Budget but after being forced to abandon his plans for disability cuts because of Conservative opposition, he now faces pressure over another key feature of his speech.
    Ms Tilley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that. This is not why I became a Conservative.”
    One normally loyal MP said: “When you have a decent local authority and broadly speaking have good schools and good leadership why on earth would you force people down this route?”

    WE SHOULD BE MAJORING ON THIS AS A CAMPAIGN !!

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Mar '16 - 9:26am

    @ John Marriott,
    Are you sitting down?

    Hear, hear.

  • MORE TORY PROTESTS

    BBC NEWS 54 minutes ago

    ‘Ideological approach’
    Conservative Peter Edgar, from Hampshire County Council, said: “To force all schools would be ridiculously expensive and in my view the wrong thing to do and also could cause in the interim a drop in standards in all our schools. “This was not in the [Conservatives’ election] manifesto,” he said. “This is a step too far.”

    Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week magazine, told Today the conversion process would be “quite expensive” and legal fees could be “huge”.She said there was a feeling that money the Treasury had earmarked for conversion costs “isn’t enough”.

    COME ON, YOU LIB DEM PEERS AND MP’s. THERE’S AN OPEN GOAL WAITING TO BE SCORED !!!! It’s an opportunity to fight back and re-establish ourselves on a really popular cause in communities all across the country.

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '16 - 3:19pm

    @John Marriott “I would like to see ALL state schools back in the LEA family”
    @David Raw “WE SHOULD BE MAJORING ON THIS AS A CAMPAIGN !!”
    Totally agree, but …
    Lib Dems are associated with the five years of changes that led to this (and Labour introduced academies before that). Campaigning against the latest changes because it forces all schools to become the sort of institutions that (some) Lib Dems have told us are so brilliant will require a delicate balancing act to avoid appearing hypocritical, cynical and opportunistic. It also needs to be part of a consistent strategy for schools and education. If Osborne changes tack and swaps the stick for the carrot, bribing schools to become academies (possibly by diverting funding from elsewhere), it would weaken an argument based solely on the aspect of compulsion.

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '16 - 6:41pm

    @John Marriott “The Lib Dems once campaigned to join the euro; but not any more. … What’s wrong with changing your mind?”
    Having given up on the party 5 years ago, I am hoping it does change its mind on a number of things (or at least the mind it has presented to me in that time)!
    But even on Europe, the Out campaign uses the former position on the euro as a reason not to believe europhiles now when they campaign for In.
    Rather than focus on the compulsion, I would like the Lib Dems to present their opposition to the Tories’ forced academisation in the context of a liberal and democratic vision for schools (preferably one in which local authorities are involved and parents are more than just customers).

  • Martin Land 26th Mar '16 - 7:05pm

    The problem with state education remains the same as always. Insufficient funding. The astonishing thing is how well many state schools do when on average they receive 20% of the funding private schools do.
    The tories are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Only improving the budget per pupil really matters. They know that and that’s what they are trying to avoid.

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