By John Pugh
Regardless of one views of the evidential backing for the academies programme, it is now the case that what was seen as a means to educational improvement is now seen as an end in itself.
Artificial targets have been set for the number of academies and the Tories seem to benchmark Michael Gove's success by the number, not the quality, of the academies created. Whatever the problem a school has, the answer is always: "become an academy ".
Falling into conversation with the chairman of the education select committee Graham Stuart recently, we speculated on how we realistically one solved the increasing problem of poor and failing academies.
This academy totemism has resulted in the Department of Education significantly souring relationships not only with local education authority (they won't worry about that) but with headteachers and governors across the land.
Government brokers have moved in in a predatory way when Ofsted results show any kind of blip on schools. These school are usually not the basket cases that have failed generation after generation. It's all about driving the academy numbers up. The brokers' approach is not tantamount to bullying, it is bullying and as such offensive to people who care quite as much for the future of their children as the secretary of state.
With a very broad interpretation of current regulations, an eye to deadlines and a skewed view of what Ofsted findings actually show, they try to foreclose on a deal in a way that would impress a double glazing salesman but with the underlying menace of Vito Coreleone. 'Sign or be sacked', 'choose a sponsor or we choose for you', 'don't talk to staff, consult with parents - and by the way if you do as we say there may be money or a release from further inspection'.
In vain schools plead that they are enduring only a temporary blip in results (that only makes them a more worthwhile target) or that their local education authority is helpful and has a fine record of turning schools around. Their only real salvation is an Ofsted improvement but the brokers even then might be back if the threshold for assumed failure is racked steadily and deliberately up by government.
All this defies rational education justification. I can only explain it sociologically. Ministers simply believe that local education authorities, councils and the people on and working for them should not be involved with the nurture and education of children and that council provision should die the death of a thousand cuts. They dare not say this because it might appear gratuitously offensive but it is the only hypothesis that makes any sense of what is going on.
Ministers have a fairly narrow experience of the world they seek to rule and it is understandable, when surveying the education provided by the best independent schools and the worst council schools, that they should assume 'independence' is the golden thread. However, it is self-evidently neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition of educational success and schools should not be bullied into 'freedom'.
Dr John Pugh is the MP for Southport. He has taught in secondary modern, comprehensive and independent schools. He is married with grown up children, all of whom were state educated.
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