The Education Bill announced today in the Queen’s Speech to parliament is first and foremost a politician’s Bill. It will probably lack the grandeur of spirit to be a Bill associated with a statesman – this word needs a gender free equivalent; suggestions please – as was say the 1944 Act or even the Education Reform Act of the Thatcher government that introduced the National Curriculum and local management of schools. Nevertheless, by accident, its outcome might be monumental in re-shaping the landscape of school governance.
Much will depend upon how rigorous the DfE and its henchmen the Regional Commissioners are at taking over coasting schools. (How redolent with male gendered words education still is despite such a large proportion of those that work in schools being of the female gender.) Where will the threshold be set? What will be the attitude of the voluntary controlled sector be to forced academisation? Will the churches and other faith groups feel they have enough control over their schools taken over in such a way that when they stop coasting control once again rests with the diocese? Frankly, on the basis of the academy programme to date that looks unlikely. Even though the Roman Catholics have been adapt in some diocese in establishing multi-academy trusts of Roman Catholic schools what happens if one schools is regarded as coasting; will it be taken out of the Trust and nationalised with leaders with no experience of faith schools put in charge?
We have already seen academies closing without consultation; operating illegal admission arrangements and generally behaving in a manner that ignores the need for any understanding of local priorities. A badly worded Bill could finally spell the end of local government’s involvement in formal schooling. Indeed, after reading Ofsted’s recent letter to Suffolk, I wonder what, apart from a loss of civic pride, is now the consequence for a Council of an inadequate rating for its education section of Children’s Services? With even more cuts to come in local government many Tory authorities will no doubt see the abandonment of responsibility for schools as a means of saving money, assuming that they can hand over pupil place planning and home to school transport to the Regional Commissioner’s Office once all their schools are academies; and why not?
A Bill designed by a Statesman with an eye on history will tackle the governance issues head on and craft a piece of legislation that will shape the landscape of schools for a generation. However, a rushed Bill, designed mainly to satisfy a manifesto pledge, will lead to a further decline in the state of education.
The OECD pointed out today how poor many graduates from universities in England are at maths. Taking a stand on the 16-19 curriculum and making maths and a language compulsory for all ought to find its way into the Bill ahead of worrying about coasting schools that don’t need legislation to improve, but rather good teachers and effective leaders. Sadly, I fear politics will win the day.