The Education and Adoption Bill has been published today. Its outcome, when passed, seems to be to further reduce the role of local authorities in both education and adoption. At least in the education part the bill seeks to honour a manifesto pledge about failing or even coasting schools.
As I have made clear in previous posts, the devil will be in the detail. But, a Bill that tackles only such schools not already academies of one description or another will be a deeply flawed Bill. It will in effect be the Queen of Hearts announcing ‘off with their heads’ or to be more accurate ‘take them away from local authorities and the churches’, for some of these schools will not be community schools but voluntary aided or controlled schools. In that respect it will be interesting to see the reaction of the Church of England and other faith groups. It would be ironic to say the least if a failing church school could join a multi-academy trust run by the church, but a failing community school passed completely out of local control to an academic sponsor with no local affiliation at all. But, if faith schools are to retain their ethos it is difficult to see how they can do so if they are operated by a secular academy chain.
Of even more interest is how the Bill will deal with Tweedledum, the failing academy. After all, it really will be Wonderland if the government is prepared to create a whole section of the Bill to reform Tweedledee, the maintained sector, but not to acknowledge that some academies may behave in the same manner that the government finds objectionable.
Since I suppose for many of us the education scene has increasingly come to look like the mad hatter’s tea party we should not be surprised if a political Bill speeds up academy conversions but ignores other ills such as failing academies and the increasing lack of local accountability or even consultation over how such schools are run.
In the end, the Bill begs the question of whether or not local politicians should try to hang onto the last vestiges of authority over schools in their locality or try to create a new order where all schools are academies of one form or another? Two years ago I advocated that all secondary schools should be academies, but that the primary sector should remain under local political control because of the strong links between such schools and their local communities. Personally, I still think that is the best way out of the current mess. After all, a failing local authority can be taken over by the government at Westminster and there is a clear span of control between central government and the individual school that is rooted in each local community.
However, what is really needed is a politician with the courage to craft a school system that everyone can understand in terms of governance and operation. Otherwise, it looks to me as if the Regional Commissioners are being cast in the role of the White Rabbit, forever running around on errands to prop up a system nobody understand and where lines of control are neither clear nor effective as we have seen over the question of academy closures. Clearly a Wonderland.