It is expected that in the next few hours the Chancellor will reveal that every school in England will be forced to convert into an academy by 2022.
It seems that the government appears to see academisation as the panacea for school improvement. Yes, Labour’s sponsored academy programme did a huge amount to transform a small number of failing schools in disadvantaged areas - and brought much needed investment, support and innovation. And it’s a legacy we are proud of. But our school improvement programme was never about turning all schools into academies.
The Tory record on education is one of a teacher shortage crisis, a school places system which is broken, a widening attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, and exams and assessments in schools in chaos.
There is no evidence to suggest that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement. Only last week the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education highlighting ‘serious weaknesses’ in academy chains. How the government can plough ahead with the wholesale academisation of all schools in light of his evidence beggars belief. We want to see robust accountability and oversight of all schools regardless of type. The balance in my view, between local accountability and central control, has gone completely the opposite way. It’s a balance that needs redressing.
We need stronger local oversight and accountability of all schools regardless of whether they’re an academy or a free school. Local authorities – as partners – have a key role to play in tackling the root causes of low attainment and low aspiration in their area; in reducing inequality and creating a productive economy.
In some parts of the country where standards remain a concern, all schools are already academies, yet the government has no other school improvement strategy. The government only has one education policy, but the truth is delivering educational excellence in all schools goes way beyond a narrow argument on academies versus local authority schools. Failure exists in both school types, just as excellence does.
It’s about time the government came forward with a comprehensive plan for school improvement for all children, in all schools up and down the country, and a serious strategy for raising standards for the next generation.