This report is adapted with thanks from ‘The new authoritarian Conservative Britain’ by Henry Stewart, 6 June, on the Local Schools Network, a website which carries regular critical analysis of government policies.
The purpose of the new Education and Adoption Bill, according to the DfE press release, is ‘to sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes’ that prevent schools from being improved. The plan is that all schools found inadequate by Ofsted will become sponsored academies.
There will be a duty on governors and local authorities to co-operate with the process and sponsors will no longer be required to consult parents and local communities.
The Secretary of State is setting herself up as the only decision maker who matters. No one else’s view is to count for anything. Anyone who disagrees “puts ideological objections above the best interests of children.”
But the evidence proves sponsored academies do no better
The government’s proposal to force one thousand schools to convert to academy status is an experiment based on dogma not data. Most of these schools are primary schools and the government has been unable to produce any evidence that conversion of primary schools to academy status produces any improvement. Indeed analysis of primary school results indicates that academy conversion actually slows progress.
The Local Schools Network’s own analysis of primary school results has found evidence that conversion to being an academy does have an effect, but its effect is to reduce progress. If primary academies are compared to similar non-academies (according to their previous results), then the increase in KS2 results is lower for academies in all cases except the top 20%.
The evidence is clear. For underperforming schools conversion to academy status resulted in slower progress than those schools which remained with their local authority. The DfE is aware of this analysis and has never challenged it.
As for secondary schools, analysis at LSN has found that sponsored academies improve no faster than similar maintained schools. Indeed analysis of the 2014 GCSE results found that results in sponsored academies consistently fell more than results in non-academies.
Nicky Morgan claims that the measures will enable the “best education experts to intervene in poor schools”. However the track record of the academy chains, to which she is referring, is middling at best. A recent DfE report found that of the 20 leading academy chains (those with five schools or more), only 3 have a value added that is above the national average.
Academy chains: most perform significantly worse
The government’s preferred solution for “underperforming” schools is to place them in an academy chain. However while a small number of chains have performed well, the majority have not.
The Education Select Committee report (p16) quoted a Sutton Trust report that stated “most [chains] are not achieving distinctive outcomes compared to mainstream schools; and there are actually more that perform significantly worse, than there are chains that perform significantly better”
The DfE’s own analysis of the largest chains found exactly the same problem. If the performance of academies in chains was compared to schools in local authorities, then the latter were far more successful. Indeed combining the two to produce a top 50 reveals that 47 of the top performing ones are local authorities and only three are chains.
Ofsted is not allowed to directly inspect academy chains, as it does with local authorities. However it has carried out indirect inspections, by inspecting large numbers of schools from a single chain, with very worrying results. It has come to highly critical conclusions on AET, E-ACT, Kemnall and Schools Partnership Academy Trust.
With AET, half of the dozen schools inspected were found not to be providing a “good” education. On E-ACT, Ofsted stated that the “overwhelming proportion of pupils…not receiving a good education”. Of 16 E-ACT schools inspected, no less than 11 were rated “Inadequate” or “Requires Improvement”. The DfE did itself halt the expansion of 14 chains, because of concerns about their performance.
With the poor track record of academy chains to date, it is unclear why the government believes academy chains have the capacity or capability to transform one thousand schools.
1000 more sponsored academies over five years will demand either even bigger chains or many new sponsors. But we know big chains expanding rapidly are the most likely to fail. And there is no evidence that there is a massive queue of new sponsors queuing up. Like much of this government’s programme, this is a leap in the dark based on a touching faith that it’ll be all right on the night.
The Bill also contains provision for “coasting schools” to be given a notice to improve and a rather vague promise of support from “expert headteachers” and if necessary “new leadership”. It stops short of promising academy status for them, but it leaves the door open. Analysis, from legal education experts Browne Jacobson, states that being a “coasting” school makes a school ” eligible for intervention” and that being “eligible for intervention” gives ”the power for the Secretary to State to make an academy order in respect of that school”.
No right to consultation with parents, no right for governors to oppose
These are the most draconian changes in the new Bill. They remove the last remnants of local democratic rights regarding forced academisation.
The Bill removes the need for schools to consult with parents before conversion. The government talks about local parents “obstructing” the process of imposing an academy sponsor. Others would describe this as parents exercising their rights in a democratic society. We know that consultation has often been a sham, but now even the pretence of valuing parents’ views is removed.
Under the 2015 Education and Adoption Bill, the governors cannot challenge the ruling. Indeed both the governing body and the local authority are legally required, whether or not they believe it is in the interests of their children, to support the change. Further they are legally bound to not only support academisation but to agree to the proposed sponsor, employ the consultant specified by the Secretary of State and work to the timetable that she has dictated.
Clause 10, the “duty to facilitate conversion”, places specific requirements on the Governing Body to support it:
“The new section provides that where a school is the subject of an Academy order under section 4(A1) or (1)(b), the governing body and its relevant local authority must work towards the school’s successful conversion into an Academy by taking all reasonable steps necessary to that end.”
It goes on to make clear that the governing Body must also support whichever sponsor the SoS has chosen:
“43 New section 5B also says that if a sponsor has been identified with a view to the sponsor entering into Academy arrangements with the Secretary of State to run the school as an Academy, and the Secretary of State has notified the school that the Secretary of State is minded to enter into academy arrangements with that person, the governing body must take all reasonable steps to facilitate the making of Academy arrangements with that particular sponsor.”
In addition Clause 4 can require a Governing Body to employ a “specified person” as an adviser. Clause 11 states that the Secretary of State can dictate to the Governing Body the specific steps they must take and the timeframe within which they must take them.
A denial of democratic rights
During the last Government, we were constantly told that schools thrived when given autonomy. But the Government is proposing removing the freedom of governing bodies and LAs to do what they believe is best for their individual schools. This isn’t freedom. It is removal of democratic rights. It is one person, the Secretary of State, making arbitrary decisions regardless of the wishes of governors, schools staff, parents and local authorities. It is rule by central diktat.
What is not in this Bill
We should also think about what is not in this bill. There is nothing that will actually make sure there are enough good teachers in classrooms – especially in areas where recruitment is difficult – at a time when new teacher numbers are in free fall.
Nothing to show how we will find more good headteachers at a time when the job is so insecure that fewer and fewer people want to take it on. Nothing to create the structures of support and challenge that over time we know is how you bring about long term change.
Nothing to make sure that there are enough school places in the right areas to meet escalating pupil numbers.
Nothing to put right the deeply damaging changes to the curriculum and assessment regimes that may well turn out to be Gove’s most toxic legacy.