Today Lucy responded to a statement by the Secretary of State for Education on the u-turn on the government’s plans to force all good and outstanding primary and secondary schools to become an academy by 2022. You can read Lucy’s statement below.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you Mr Speaker.
May I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of her statement.
It’s good to see that, despite her best efforts, this U-turn is getting the airing it deserves.
Key concession and what it means
What she announced on Friday was a significant and welcome climb down.
However she wants to dress it up, dropping her desire to force all schools to become academies by her arbitrary deadline of 2022, is a key concession. School leaders should take it as a very clear signal that the foot is off their throat and they shouldn’t feel they need to jump before being pushed.
In achieving this welcome move can I thank the very broad alliance who joined us in making the arguments; the head teachers, who made their collective voice very clear last weekend, parents, governors, teachers, local government leaders, and honourable members from across the House, who have made very thoughtful and important interventions over recent weeks.
I would have thought given the scale and breadth of the opposition to her plans, and the huge sense of panic and upheaval they have caused to school leaders, she might have shown a little more humility in her statement today. If I were her, I would at least apologise.
Leaves many of same concerns
But I have to say, after her statement today, we are all left even more confused about what her policy is. She says her aim remains the same, but without the means.
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that although the Secretary of State has conceded on the politically daft idea of forcing good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes, she still holds the ambition that all schools will become academies, yet has still today failed to make a single decent argument as to why this ambition is desirable in the first place.
Perhaps this is because, despite her claims to be in listening mode, she is a Secretary of State with her fingers in her ears, out of touch with heads, parents and teachers.
Where is her evidence that academisation is the panacea for school improvement? Where’s the choice or autonomy or innovation in a one-size-fits-all approach? Is there sufficient capacity and accountability in the academies system to ensure that it is best practice, not poor practice, which is being spread?
These questions remain as she seeks further powers to speed up the pace of academisation.
On school improvement, she must now take stock of the evidence. The Education Select Committee recommended she do this: Sir Michael Wilshaw found serious concerns in many chains, research by the Sutton Trust found there is a very mixed picture in performance of academy chains, and there is no evidence at all that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement.
Indeed, analysis published today by PWC shows that only three of the biggest academy chains gets a positive value-added rating. And just one of the 26 biggest primary sponsors achieves results above the national average. She must not continue making dubious arguments about cause and effect without the evidence.
The concerns of a “one-size fits all” policy as expressed by Cllr Paul Carter, Chair of the County Councils Network, still apply. As do those about “distant, unaccountable bureaucracies”, expressed by the Hon Member for Altrincham & Sale West.
As Lord Kenneth Baker raised, there are real issues of capacity within Multi-Academy Trusts to take on a new wave of academies.
[And today she’s failed to answer the key question of parents and their right to remain on governing bodies of academies.]
Misses the point
But perhaps the biggest concern we all have about her direction is her fixation with structures not standards.
Whilst chaos reigns all around her, and while heads are dealing with what they describe as “very challenging times”, she wants to put the energies of her department into more structural change, for which there is little evidence, insufficient capacity and inadequate accountability.
Wouldn’t she be better advised sorting out the utter chaos besetting primary assessment and SATs? Or ensuring the massively behind schedule new GCSEs are delivered well and on time? Or how about dealing with the chronic shortages of teachers she’s caused? Or getting a proper strategy for local place planning? Or instead of simply doing the Chancellor’s bidding, perhaps she could fight for school budgets, which are facing real terms cuts for the first time in 20 years.
We all want to see educational excellence everywhere, but the Secretary of State is presiding over a chaotic mess dragging schools backwards, and her ambitions for further structural change are at best a distraction, and at worst will damage standards.