The Conservative Party seems to have calculated that because education in general and schools in particular didn’t feature prominently in the 2015 general election campaign parents and voters generally were content with the direction of travel. This means Tory policy-makers think voters support the move towards a school system that deprived local authorities of most of their remaining functions regarding schools and required all schools, including all primary schools, to become academies.
The forthcoming local elections in May are an opportunity for many voters to prove the government spin doctors wrong. As this blog has asserted, primary schools should remain under local support and direction as part of a national system. Schools are an important part of their local community, indeed in many rural areas they are the only manifestation of the community other than a village hall. The pub, shop, church and all other services have disappeared. Many Tory councillors recognise this point. Indeed, I suspect than some even entered active politics in support of their local school.
Announcing the policy that all schools must become academies just before Easter and both the teacher conference season and local election campaigning was either an act of supreme self-confidence on the part of the prime minister – for he must have sanctioned the Chancellor telling the world about the policy in the budget – or a staggering lack of understanding of the feelings of voters for their local school and its place in the community. Why the Tories would want to offer opposition parties a campaign against wholesale nationalisation of schools is beyond my understanding.
So far, despite their important as operators of primary schools, the churches and other faith groups seem to have bene relatively silent on the announcement about academisation. Easter Sunday sermons would be a good time for the Archbishops to convey to the faithful whether they back the government or will support those that want local authorities to retain an interest in schooling.
The honourable way out might be for Mrs Morgan to announce that in the first stage all secondary schools will become academies and that the policy will then be reviewed in the light of how MATs are working before moving on to the primary sector if the policy has proved successful. After all, we live in an age of austerity, as the government keeps telling us, and creating academies for the sake of it uses money that could be better spent protecting children’s centres, rural bus subsidies, disability benefits or a host of other more useful projects.
The Perry Beeches warning letter from the Education Funding Agency published on Maundy Thursday will just add fuel to the fire of those that worry about how MATs operate. Of course there were schools that broke financial regulations under local control, and even heads that went to prison for mis-appropriating public or parents’ funds. But, it would be interesting to know whether the trend towards financial mis-management is more likely in MATs with no geographical basis than those where they work closely with local authorities?
Who runs our schools could become the key battle of the 2016 local elections. If it does, there is no guarantee that the Tory programme for all schools to become academies will meet with universal voter approval.