I am pleased that a number of leading Conservative Councillors, including the Cabinet Member for Education in Oxfordshire, which includes David Camerons’s Witney constituency, are speaking out against the forced ‘academisation’ of English schools.
There are many arguments against the government’s policy, which was announced in the recent Budget speech. My main concern however is for the future of small rural primary schools, some of which are doing an excellent job educating children in the Cosford Division. As part of a chain of academies these will inevitably come under scrutiny from academy sponsors seeking to achieve economies of scale. The closure of Monks Eleigh School a couple of years ago has taught me how damaging to a small community school closure can be.
The case for academies is unproven. There is some evidence that in fact standards have not improved across the board under the leadership of academy trusts. In Suffolk my work on the School Improvement Board, which seeks to drive up standards at all Suffolk schools, means that I am aware that by no means all academies are first rate, or improving.
An education minister on the Today Programme this morning tried to argue that local authority schools appear doing better now on average because many of the worst schools have become academies so are no longer counted. What the Minister failed to say was that many excellent schools have also been taken out of the local authority mix.
The Minister claimed that ‘one size does not fit all’ in education and that as academies schools will have more ‘freedom’. In the same breath however, rather perversely, he stated that ‘two systems cannot exist side by side’, implying that indeed one size does fit all!
In my opinion each school is a small system in itself and is unique. What matters most is the quality of teaching and robust governance. Forcing top down structural change for its own sake, or for ideological reasons, which seems to be the case in this instance, seems wrong, particularly when the education of our children is at stake.
Like other Conservative councillors, I hope that the Government will reconsider.