Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Academies Programme is dead

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The removal of 10 schools from the EACT academy chain is the most spectacular failure in British post war education history. No Local Authority ever failed so dismally. Even when Islington Council’s education service was deemed beyond repair in the mid 1990’s it only had 3 ‘failing’ secondary schools!

EACT’s catastrophe is a personal humiliation for Sir Bruce Liddington, former Permanent Secretary at the DfE and head of the Academies Division. He was one of the chief architects of the Academies Programme before sliding seamlessly into the private sector to pocket £300,000 pa. salary plus benefits as CEO of EACT. It earned him the dubious title of the ‘fattest, fat cat in education’.

But the catastrophe is much more than this. First and foremost it is a betrayal of the children and families who go these schools. They were sold a lie that the private sector would be better. Blair, Adonis, and Gove have all claimed that there was something in the ‘DNA of private education’ that would improve state schools. Of course some academies have done well, although increasingly the evidence suggests that this is more the result of changing intakes rather than a ‘magic dust’ sprinkled by sponsors.

The EACT catastrophe therefore signals the death of the credibility of the Academies programme. David Cameron’s shoddy claims to localism are also in tatters as the all-powerful Secretary of State, Chairman Gove steps in to micro-manage our schools. After just over a decade of controversy, the Academies Programme experiment has failed. Any governing body currently considering conversion should halt it immediately whilst a full and public enquiry is conducted. And if governors won’t stop conversion, then staff and parents should take matters infat cats at the academies showto their own hands and stop this madness by any means necessary.

But here’s the rub! Due to the reckless behaviour of those who have legislated on education policy over the last decade, the Academies Programme will continue like a zombie. There is no mechanism to halt it, to restore schools to Local Authorities and to ensure that they are properly functioning. Only Gove has the power to decide the future of these schools. The whole system of checks and balances, of accountability and credibility has been smashed up in pursuit of a ‘supply side revolution’.

And, worst still, there is not a single cabinet minister or front bench spokesperson from the Coalition or the Opposition who will stand up and admit ‘we got it wrong’. The unregulated education market was a train wreck waiting to happen. Estelle Morris warned of this ‘direction of travel’ a decade ago. But the zombie politicians still stagger around Westminster singing its praises.

As Sweden picks over the bones of its rotten marketised system, who will have the courage to call a halt to this reckless policy?

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