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It’s only a partial retreat. The government will legislate to force schools to become academies when their parent council can no longer support them, or when the council fails to meet minimum performance standards across all its schools.

The blog by Disillusioned Idealist sees Morgan’s climbdown as a tactical temporary retreat, comparing it to the Normans’ tactic at the Battle of Hastings. (1)

Firstly, this is clearly a nod and a wink to Tory MPs that Tory-run local authorities will not have their schools forcibly stripped away from them. The two mass-forced-conversion criteria above are clearly aimed at urban and Labour-controlled authorities, about which Tory MPs care rather little. That, and the pretence at going back to a more Thatcherite “choice” approach will enable Tory MPs to vote through the Bill.

Secondly, there’s a whole bunch of the educational Fyrd who are going to run down the hill after Morgan’s “retreating” policy. Many of that previously solid shield wall, parents, governors, the sceptical media, are going to assume the battle is won… (2)

Then, when the wall’s broken, the Bill is passed, and everyone is slapping themselves on the back for their victory, Morgan will be back, slicing off a section of state education at a time, and handing it over to private companies.

How will the DfE judge?

How will the DfE judge whether a local authority can support its schools, or whether it is failing to meet minimum performance standards across all its schools? According to Schools Week (3) The Department for Education would not reveal further details of how a council’s performance will be measured when asked.

One criterion could be Ofsted data. According to the latest annual Ofsted report there are 16 local authorities (almost all Labour urban authorities) where less than 60 per cent of children attend good or outstanding secondary schools, have lower than national GCSE attainment and make less than national levels of expected progress. (4). Birmingham is not one of them.

However, another criterion could be the number of schools which are not graded Good or Outstanding. Roughly 60 of Birmingham’s 400 or so schools come into the category of Requires Improvement. (We need to know the exact figures.) Of course some of these are academies, over which the local authority has virtually no powers, but bizarrely the DfE is able to hold the local authority responsible for all Birmingham children when it suits them.

Wilshaw himself has been a vicious critic of Birmingham’s Children’s Services. In his 2013 annual report he branded Birmingham a “national disgrace. He stated that Birmingham had declined dramatically from being the “powerhouse of the nation” to the “fourth division” in the wake of a string of child scandals and he suggested that the city council might have to be broken up to tackle the effects of a “failure of corporate governance on a grand scale” dating back decades. (5). However, improvements in children’s services since then, and reforms in the city’s governance, overseen by government commissioners Tomlinson, Warner and Kerslake seem to have satisfied the government’s requirements and removed these being used as grounds for forced academisation.

A factor which may deter a DfE attack on Birmingham LA as a whole is its size. It’s a big mouthful for the DfE to swallow, at a time when there are 16 other LAs at the top of Ofsted’s hit list.

Birmingham LA schools are still at risk of academisation

Overall our estimate is that Morgan will not mount a full-scale academisation attack on Birmingham LA as a whole. But this doesn’t mean Birmingham LA schools are safe from academisation, for two reasons.

  1. The continuing picking off of LA schools through not meeting Ofsted standards. Although on average Birmingham’s schools perform well Ofsted has commented that in almost every ward there are under-performing schools. (6). An additional pressure on schools is the forthcoming cuts in school budgets. The projected reduction in per pupil funding between 2015/16 and 2019/20 is 13.9%. (7). The main danger here is externally-run chains taking them over to expand their empires.
  1. There are local authority schools, fearing forced academisation, which are in the process of voluntarily converting to academies and, in most cases, forming small MATs (multi-academy trusts). Some may decide to continue the process, believing that Morgan’s retreat is temporary and the axe will eventually fall. They may also see advantages of forming a MAT for mutual support, given the limited capacity of the local authority and the forthcoming budget cuts. But as the TES warns, “Joining a MAT is like ‘getting married with no chance of a divorce’.” (8). Schools can work together in lots of ways without forming a MAT, as many already do. And school-to-school support and the BEP have proved very effective in supporting schools at risk of Requiring Improvement.

So let’s continue to organise the campaign to defend our schools and our local authority against academisation, whether voluntary or forced, and whether today or some time in the near future when the government feels it can get away with more legislation.

References

  1. When is a U-Turn not a U-Turn? https://disidealist.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/when-is-a-u-turn-not-a-u-turn/
  2. For an example of how a section of the education establishment will happily capitulate see Roy Blatchford, Founding Director of the National Education Trust: http://schoolsimprovement.net/roy-blatchford-failure-politics-not-policy-direction/?utm_source=Schools+Improvement+Net+updates+mailing+list&utm_campaign=e949fc123f-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e37908ae22-e949fc123f-96770425
  3. http://schoolsweek.co.uk/morgan-u-turn-new-plan-puts-schools-in-labour-areas-at-most-risk-of-forced-academisation/ . 6 May.
  4. Ofsted annual report: A ‘nation divided at 11′, Schools Week 1 December 2015: http://schoolsweek.co.uk/ofsted-annual-report-a-nation-divided-at-11/
  5. http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/vitriolic-hurtful-to-birmingham-appalling-brigid-jones-on-ofsted-chief-wilshaw/ . 21 April 2016.
  6. The latest data is at https://birmingham.cmis.uk.com/birmingham/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/93/Committee/11/Default.aspx . 9 December 2015.
  7. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/12/schools-cuts-following . 18 December 2015.
  8. https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/joining-a-mat-getting-married-no-chance-a-divorce-experts-warn. 15 April 2016.
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