A response to ‘Academies the School System in England and a Vision for the Future’ West and Wolfe 2018

For the abolition of academy status, not a ‘common rule book’ for co-existence with maintained schools

David Wolfe is a legal expert on academies whose website ‘A Can of Worms’ provided valuable analysis for several years. He has recently published jointly with Anne West a paper titled ‘Academies, autonomy, equality, and democratic accountability: reforming the fragmented publicly-funded school system in England’, dated 28 October 2018 (i.e. after the Labour Party conference). In it they say:

We would argue that the desired policy goal is for there to be a common framework or rule book for all state-funded schools – academies of different types and maintained schools. (p12)

The phrase ‘common rule book’ had been used by Rayner in her conference speech:

we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control. [5]

But West and Wolfe interpret it as meaning accepting the continuing existence of academies alongside maintained schools. They say:

One option would be a wholesale statutory conversion of academies into, or back into, maintained schools. (p12)

But they don’t explain what statutory measures a Labour government would need to take, and choose not to explore this option further.

What we describe below seeks to address many of the main issues with academies as we describe them here, but without the same level of disruption and cost. (p12)

They don’t explain what they think the ‘disruption and cost’ might be, and in contrast, two pages later, they describe the option of a Labour government compulsorily integrating academies into the local authority system as a ‘modest further step’:

A bespoke legal mechanism could be devised by which a school, reinstated as a legal entity could make the modest further step of becoming a maintained school again. […] If there were a political will to do so more quickly, that process could be made compulsory (cf. Hatcher, 2018) as opposed to permissive. (p14)

But this option is left till the penultimate paragraph of their paper and the statutory procedures to enable it are left unaddressed.

A new legal framework could ensure that maintained schools and academies operated to the same rules with the same obligations regarding admissions, the curriculum, governance and funding. However, they would still leave in place two parallel strands overall: maintained schools and academies […]. Stopping there would have the attraction to policy makers of not actually changing the core legal notion of an academy… (p14)

It isn’t explained why the authors regard ‘changing the core legal notion of an academy’ as a problem for a Labour government that it would prefer not to countenance. There seem to be some unspoken assumptions about strategy underlying West and Wolfe’s argument. The danger is that focusing on measures to regulate and restrict the status of academies and the trusts that control them without calling for the total abolition of academy status plays into the hands of those who support the academies policy or at least are unwilling to challenge it.

Richard Hatcher

12 January 2019

Contact Richard.Hatcher@bcu.ac.uk

  1. West, Anne and Wolfe, David (2018) Academies, autonomy, equality, and democratic accountability: reforming the fragmented publicly-funded school system in England. London Review of Education. Date 28 October (i.e. after LP conference) http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/90528/1/West_Academies%2C%20autonomy%2C%20equality_2018.pdf
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