The Chancellor is putting in place an education system that will make it easier for a future government to end selective state secondary schools. By making all schools academies the government is ending the historic partnership between local authorities and the government at Westminster over the direction of education policy that has lasted for more than a century.
Now this may or may not be the right time to take this step – I personally think primary schools should be a local service supported nationally – but one consequence is that policy, including the rules on admissions and selection, will be firmly set out by Westminster.
Supporters of the academisation, or nationalisation, of schooling will no doubt suggest that Westminster already has the power to act over selection. However, as a weak Labour government found, after it passed the 1976 Education Act requiring all local authorities to provide schemes of non-selective education, the barrier to action presented by dilatory local authorities meant that supporters of selective schools just sat on their hands. For anyone interested in this period of education history, a read of the North Yorkshire court case over re-organisation in Ripon, would be very informative. Not for nothing was the first action of the Thatcher government to pass a short Bill through parliament to repeal the 1976 Act.
With all schools financed and managed from London, a future government with a majority at Westminster that was so minded could either direct Regional Commissioners to create selective forms of education across all areas or alternatively remove all existing selective schools. I am sure that neither option is in the Chancellor’s mind as he makes his announcement today.
His other announcement of what seems like a job creation scheme for unemployed art, PE and drama teachers is small beer in the £40 billion spent on schooling. However, £500 million a year is a sizeable amount if divided among 1,000 secondary schools, but decreases rapidly if the number of schools able to benefit increases significantly. Whether the money might have been better used to fund the overall growth in pupil numbers won’t be known until the second part of the consultation on the national funding formula takes place, when winners and losers will become clear. Indeed, the announcement already calls into question the national formula approach.
One consequence of this new fund might be that those school that have relied on PE teachers to teach Key Stage 3 science may now need to start looking for a new source of science teachers if they will now all running after school activities. But, until the details are made clear we won’t know whether it is possible for them to do both.
Will the Chancellor say anything about the National Teaching Service? One wonder what is happening on that front.
Finally, I am always suspicious when Chancellors start announcing plans for spending departments. History tells us it is often because they want to draw attention away from the Treasury side of the budget. This year, it may be the effects of the slowdown since the enthusiastic Autumn Statement. Still, the slowdown in the wider economy may help recruitment into teaching so it’s an ill wind …