The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) is probably the most
powerful body in British schools today. As local authorities are
progressively stripped of their strategic role in education, this charitable
trust assumes a growing proportion of their responsibilities.
Each year it gets to look more and more like a quango, both an agent
and an initiator of government policy. But because its formal status is that
of an independent charitable trust, it sometimes seems to be immune from
the sort of scrutiny that we expect with an organisation which is mostly
taxpayer-funded. This pamphlet is designed to provide that scrutiny.
I wrote most of it in the first six months of 2007. Publication was
delayed until the end of the year – and then Sir Cyril Taylor was ousted as
SSAT chairman, which delayed publication once again while I did the
necessary updating and some rethinking.
Sir Cyril’s departure is, at least potentially, a very significant moment. In
the pamphlet as I wrote it in early 2007, I predicted that “Sir Cyril’s
personal influence will begin to wane” under Gordon Brown, and that “one
day the SSAT will have to get on without its founder,” though I did not
expect his departure to happen so fast and so dramatically.
It may mean that the philosophy which has stifled secondary education
for 20 years has been significantly weakened with the departure of its
second most influential advocate after Lord Andrew Adonis. If so, we may
be able to look to a very different and much better future, and the SSAT
may become a very different body.
I want to thank the trade union UNISON, without whose help in every
way this booklet would never have been written or published; and also the
Anti Academies Alliance, who are publishing it.
The list of those whose knowledge and wisdom have helped guide me is
a long one, and I will not name them all here. But I would like to mention
Christine Lewis and Christina McAnea at Unison; John Bangs and his
colleagues at the National Union of Teachers; Alasdair Smith, Secretary of
the Anti Academies Alliance; local anti-academy campaigners Ken Muller,
Nick Grant and Hank Roberts; Margaret Tulloch of Comprehensive Future;
Fiona Millar and David Chaytor MP.
I would also like to thank Michael Turner, head of communications at
the SSAT, for the courteous and professional way he helps me, despite
knowing that I am unlikely to be sympathetic to his organisation; Sir Cyril
Taylor, who gave me a helpful interview while still chairman; and other
SSAT staff who I know would prefer not to be identified by name.