Education, Education, Education
Andrew Adonis’ recently published book, Education, Education, Education: Reforming England’s Schools, is a must-read for anyone interested in education or how to drive through public service reform.
The book is partly the story of how the policy of academies was not just devised, but also delivered. It is worth reflecting on what it tells us about the rationale for Labour’s academy programme and to test this against current policy. For Labour, academies’ first aim was to improve the performance of the schools with the lowest standards – schools which Andrew identifies as ‘secondary modern comprehensives’. The ambition was to transform the whole system, but to focus first on the young people who most needed the benefits of reform.
A key element of Labour’s academy solution was to bring in extra capacity and external drive through sponsorship. Schools became ‘independent’ from what many school leaders saw as the ‘dead hand’ of local authority control. However, the success of the early academies is not just about independence, it is about governance – and in particular, it is mainly about a strong external sponsor providing direction and accountability. Andrew expresses his frustration that this objective could be seen as rightwing. Why wouldn’t we want the most successful entrepreneurs, the most prestigious charitable foundations, the specialism and academic excellence of universities and the experience of successful schools and headteachers harnessed for the benefit of all pupils, not just those in public schools or Oxbridge colleges?
The ‘cream’ of the private school system and the most academic grammar schools have always taken for granted the support and sponsorship of rich and influential people and interests through their governors, their alumni and the foundations which support them. To demand the same for the comprehensive schools educating the young people who most need the additional support is a wholly progressive demand and the success of the academy programme and the transformation of schools which it achieved is one that Labour members should be proud to claim as their own.
However, this raises an important issue about whether the current growth of academies which are largely ‘converter’ academies will achieve the same impact. They have ‘independence’ from local authorities, but is this enough to ensure the accountability and drive that has transformed many ‘sponsored’ academies? I support the ability of schools which are already performing well to be able to become academies, but this is not as great a reform as that of bringing in an external sponsor to hold the school to account for delivery, to inject new ideas and specialism and to widen the base of those working for the best standards in our state schools. In its academy programme, this government has settled for quantity rather than quality of school reform.
Andrew argues that the lowest-performing 650 comprehensive schools should all become ‘sponsored’ academies. But his book also identifies the problem with delivering this. He describes the enormous personal effort he put into matchmaking the first academies and sponsors. Where will this drive come from with a government which seems to have lost the focus on tackling underperformance which was at the heart of the Labour government’s reform programme?
Step in local authorities! Freed from their bureaucratic role in ‘managing’ schools, local authorities can now play the role of champion of parents and children and broker of the relationships with external partners and sponsors for school governance and improvement. This is a real opportunity for the Labour councillors around the country who care passionately about the quality of the education provided in the communities they serve. Let’s identify those – universities, business leaders, philanthropists – who haven’t yet stepped up to the mark to support the education of future generations, inspire them with what could be achieved and matchmake them with the schools which need their sponsorship. Labour policy, Labour values, Labour action!
Education, Education, Education is published by Biteback Publishing
academies, Andrew Adonis, coalition government, education, Jacqui Smith, Labour, local government, schools