Gove has indicated that he has no stomach for a fight. He has backed down in the face of sustained and escalating protest.
It was left to his spin doctor Henry deZoete to throw in the towel, conceding the central point made by the parents’ campaign: Snaresbrook Primary School does not need academy status to improve.
“Our policy remains unchanged – we cannot stand by when a school is judged inadequate and believe that becoming an academy with the support of a strong sponsor is the best way to ensure rapid and sustained improvement.
“Snaresbrook Primary School does not have a history of underperformance and has made significant progress after being judged to require special measures by Ofsted in June. We therefore do not plan to intervene to convert Snaresbrook to an academy.
“However, being judged inadequate by Ofsted is extremely serious and we will continue to monitor the school’s progress in coming out of special measures.”
But if Snaresbrook does not need academy status, no school does.
It is true that there were some temporary problems, but the school leadership, local authority and the wider community had already begun to address them. Academy conversion was an unwelcome distraction. It was also clearly politically motivated. It felt like outsiders imposing a centralised, politicised solution.
The Snaresbrook parents got advice from Downhills and held firm. The whole school community was united. Crucially the Local Authority, including Tory councillors, opposed the conversion. A school improvement plan was already in place with a new head and support from the LA. Although, the governors looked like they might cave in to the pressure, the parents campaign gave them enough ‘backbone’ to stand up to DfE bully boy tactics.
The victory at Snaresbrook comes a week after a leak from the DfE revealed that officials had advised Gove to ditch the forced academy programme due to cost and political pressures in the wake of the Downhills campaign. Snaresbrook was on the verge of breaking into national news with a petition handed into Downing St this week and a planned lobby of Gove on Friday 1st November (now cancelled).
So it is no surprise Gove has sued for peace. It is an indication of his weakening position. Free school scandals have tarnished his flagship, splits in the Coalition reveal a lack of popularity and, most importantly, professional opinion is hardening against his reforms.
Gove cuts an increasingly isolated and despised figure in education, despite his ‘poster boy’ status on the hard right of the Tory party. Even Lord Baker has spoken out against him.
For all these reasons, Snaresbrook is an important victory. It shows Downhills, Roke, Gladstone Park and others did not fight in vain. It confirms that no school ‘needs’ academy conversion. It shows that any school that finds it itself in trouble can work with their community to improve.
The AAA hopes that Gove will now publicly admit that the policy of forcing academy status on schools is finished. For now, DeZoete may claim the policy is unchanged, but we all know the policy can be defeated.
For further comment contact
Alasdair Smith, National Secretary AAA