It is more than a decade since the original academies programme was launched and 8 years since the AAA was set up. The fall of Gove in July 2014 marks the high tide academies programme. His defeat is a victory for our movement. The AAA is proud of the part it played in his downfall. Gove’s sacking marks a turning point. The academies programme is slowing, perhaps grinding to a halt. Although there are forces who want to accelerate it – the think tank Policy Exchange, for example – there appears to be little political will to do so for the moment. A new Tory government in May 2015 would probably open the door to for profit schooling, despite the catastrophe in Sweden. But for now the academies programme is stalling.
The AAA will soon publish a report based on the DfE’s own data showing the decline in the rate of conversions. (You can see a draft of the report in Appendix B). But it is also a turning point because the political bandwagon that accompanied the academies movement has been derailed. Once upon a time it appeared that academies were all about modernity, forward-thinking and dynamism. Although this was always hype, it swept up the Westminster village. Few MPs would stand against it. Those who opposed it were ‘enemies of promise’. Today, the academies programme is mired in controversy. Failure and corruption have caught the headlines, but below the radar, it has become obvious to those who work in schools that academy status has nothing to do with school improvement. This simple truth was illustrated very clearly by recent events at Hove Park School.
Victory at Hove Park
In March, when academy conversion was proposed, Mr Trimmer – the Head teacher – was bullish about academy status. His glossy brochure suggested it was a ‘moral imperative’ not just educationally necessary. Yet a vibrant local parents’ campaign overturned his arguments and his plans. Earlier this month, he announced the plan to convert had been withdrawn. In a press release he admitted that becoming an academy would have been “too divisive and disruptive to children’s education” and it was not necessary for school improvement.
If more head teachers listened to Mr Trimmer then we could bury the academies programme altogether. Unfortunately, at primarily level, academy conversions are still happening. We are continuing to support local campaigns and we are confident that if parents can learn the lessons of Hove Park (see our new bulletin) we will able to stop more conversions. Indeed, we suspect that few politicians will have the stomach for a fight over academy conversions.
The new Secretary of State Nicky Morgan is a stop-gap appointment. She has clearly been told to talk peace for the sake of the Tories’ electoral ambition. Tristram Hunt has characterised her as ‘continuity Gove’ or ‘worse than Gove’. He’s probably right. But the only certainty here is that an election is on! There will be various political machinations in the run up to May 2015, and the unfortunately the education debate is likely to be controlled through the prism of party politics. This mean it is highly unlikely that any progress will be made on the urgent and essential reforms our education system needs.
In these circumstances, the recent National Steering Committee meeting agreed that the AAA should begin consultations on a new statement of intent. For the last two years, we have argued for a new National Campaign for Education. For a variety of reasons, this project has not moved further forward. So we need to clarify our aims and objectives for the longer term, beyond the election 2015.
The AAA began as a collective of local parent campaigns that sprang up independently but soon realised the need for some national organisation and profile. We know that our work has made a difference in helping parents, most recently at Hove Park for example. We want to continue this role but make it more effective in these changed circumstances. The draft statement of intent is a first attempt. We positively welcome comment and debate. Please send your comments/feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Appendix A – Revised AAA Statement of Aims & Intent – draft for consultation
AAA is for a comprehensive, democratic and progressive education system. We want a good local school for every child. We want the best for every child. We want an education system characterised by not only by high quality but by high levels of equality.
We are not against the parents, teachers or children who go to academies or free schools. We recognise that three decades of political reforms have created a ‘choice delusion’ that has confused parents by suggesting that individualistic competition, rather collective endeavour, will deliver better results for their children.
But we are against politicians who have promoted deregulation and privatisation to restructure education without a democratic mandate, without the support of parents, and without the support of vast majority of teachers. Despite the extravagant claims, the academies programme has not delivered ‘transformation’ of our schools. Some academies have done well but others have not. The ‘academies effect ‘ is negligible. There has been no significant innovation or success in tackling inequality. On contrary, there is some evidence of greater inequality and less innovation.
The central problem is that -as the OECD identified back in 2003 – “the greater the variety of type of school the greater the social segregation”. Choice and diversity of type of school is detracting attention from making all schools good. The cancer of inequality is undermining our schools and children. Equality is the key to high quality. Without it our system will continue with its ‘long tail of underachievement’. So if we want high quality education for all, we also have to accept the need for equality for all. We must answer this question: How do we tackle inequality in education?
The AAA believes that we must continue to campaign against privatisation and deregulation but that it is necessary to widen our campaign to address the inequality in education, including that created by the private, independent sector. Accordingly we plan to campaign on the following basis:
- To oppose all academy conversions. We urge any school that is not an academy to pledge it will not become one. We will continue to provide support for local campaigns opposing conversion – whether forced or voluntary. We will provide a national platform for critiquing the academies and free school programmes. We will also provide a place for whistleblowers within academies and free schools in order to redress the lack of accountability.
- To restore all schools to local, democratic accountability under a legally binding national regulatory framework of education law that creates a ‘level playing’ for all schools, covering all aspects of education including pay and conditions of staff. Whilst we believe that Local Authorities are the best vehicle for local democratic accountability, we are open to new to discussion of new forms of local democracy, such as elected education commissioners.
- To oppose what Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Education Reform Movement – GERM. We recognise that the reform programme enacted here in England is part of a wider, international reform. We utterly reject the basic tenets of GERM – that choice and competition will drive improvements to schools. We will renew our efforts to challenge the neo-liberal ideology of GERM where possible working with international partners.
- To broaden our opposition to ‘independent’ state schools to include all private and grammar schools systems. Inequality remains the most serious problem in education. Neither the Pupil Premium nor planned changes in the national funding formula have addressed the gross structural inequality within and between our schools. We believe it is not possible to reform our education system without tackling this. As a start, government should remove the charitable status of private schools and outlaw selection at 11 – without exception. But ultimately, moves should be made to make private schooling illegal.
- To continue working towards a National Campaign for Education based on the ideals of comprehensive, progressive and democratic education with social justice & high quality at its heart. To work with all education groups, organisations and campaigns that share the same broad perspective on creating a ‘good local school for every child’.
- To continue working with teachers, their unions and other educational organisations to achieve these aims and to restore hope and positivity in the teaching profession and school workforce.
- To oppose, vigorously, the backward-looking ‘return to grammar’ school politics of groups such as UKIP. The AAA remains committed to a fair, diverse and socially cohesive education system. We strongly oppose those organisations that seek to divide our communities
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