Thursday 27 October 2016

Greening forced to take the 'forced' out of academisation !

This afternoon, Education Secretary Justine Greening sneaked out a Ministerial Statement containing the news that the 'Education for All' Bill has been shelved. This is a real victory for all those who have been campaigning to force the Tories into retreat over 'forced academisation'.
Rallying against forced academisation, London, March 2016

Above all, the announcement means that the plan to force all schools “in underperforming or unviable local authorities” to convert to academy status has been ditched. Another noteworthy result of Greening's announcement is that the plan to scrap Qualified Teacher Status appears to have been scrapped as well.

This latest academy U-turn, coming on top of the initial Nicky Morgan 'U-turn' - when the previous Minister abandoned plans for total forced academisation of every maintained school - is a significant retreat for a Government that had set out with the clear intention of forcing through complete academisation of state education in England.

There is more than one reason for Greening's announcement. It certainly reflects unhappiness inside her own Party from Conservative councillors who did not want to see oversight of local education taken away from their administrations. However, it is also a result of continuing academy scandals, ever-growing critical research and ongoing anti-academy campaigning - including the NUT national strike on July 5 - which have made it harder and harder for the Tories to seriously argue for the educational benefits of enforcing academisation.

Of course, a confident Government doesn't step back faced with mere 'facts'. The Tories' ideological commitment to dismantling elected local authorities and allowing private hands to take hold of our public services remains intact. However, this is a divided and uncertain Government which is at least partly aware of the deep-seated opposition to its project to inflict  further cuts, privatisation and inequality on the electorate. That's why it has decided it is best to take a different route to its intended goal.

Regrettably, Government academisation plans have too often found willing helpers inside Local Authorities, including some Labour administrations. A number of Councils, as well as some Dioceses, are still putting together plans to set up their own Multi-Academy Trusts, arguing falsely that Government proposals give them no choice. Greening's announcement should make it even clearer that they absolutely do have a choice!  Any decision to go ahead with encouraging academisation, despite the latest U-turn,  would be a dereliction of educational duty, and one which  would have to be fought determinedly by parents and staff.

Of course, there will still be ways for the Government to encourage further 'voluntary' academisation, not least by continuing to insist that any new schools that open in areas of pupil place shortage should be 'free school' academies. Having seen the Government forced into a U-turn on forced academisation, Local Authorities - and the Labour front-bench - must press home their advantage and demand that this 'free school presumption' is ditched. Instead, Local Authorities should be given both the legal powers and the funding necessary to open new maintained schools as part of a properly planned system of local place-planning and school admissions. 

Of course, it is precisely the issue of school admissions that Greening now wants to champion as her new way to divide-and-rule in education. She is set on trying to use selection, in particular by increasing the number of grammar schools, as a way to appeal to the self-interest of those parents who think their child would be better served by a 'selective' education. Of course, the reality is that most children will lose out.

Grammar schools inevitably only educate a selected minority, largely a middle-class minority as these figures from the Mirror clearly demonstrate:

Just as with Morgan's academy policy, Greening's grammar school policy will also meet firm opposition, including from some within the Conservative party. A section of the Tories still see the need for a more widely educated workforce rather than accepting there should be a narrowing of education provision through selection. Once again, the educational evidence will also be stacked against grammar schools. (See, for example, Henry Stewart's '11 myths').

The question, once again, is whether the Government can get away with their attacks. As with academies, parents, campaigners and trade unions must continue to mount firm opposition. Happily, it would seem that, under a Jeremy Corbyn leadership that calls for 'education not segregation', campaigners will also be given support from the Labour front bench.

There will be voices within Government that will demand that austerity has to be imposed, and that means further cutting school spending and restricting decent education to a selected few. They are certainly the same voices demanding that teachers' pay rises remain restricted to an average 1% overall - but with some getting no increase at all. That's why the NUT rallies against spending cuts to take place before the Autumn Statement in London (17 Nov), Manchester (12 Nov) and Birmingham (26 Nov) are vitally important to keep up the pressure on the Government.

Those who understand the need for decent education for all are already worried that the continued attacks on teachers and schools are threatening future educational prospects. A recent parliamentary answer confirmed that 30% of those qualifying in 2010 had already quit teaching by 2015. However, the crisis in teacher morale and retention cannot be addressed without also addressing excessive workload, inadequate funding and the regime of school accountability.

We still face a Government determined to bully schools and staff into doing 'more for less' while imposing greater inequality on schools and our communities. However, we should take heart from today's news. Greening's new 'academy U-turn' shows that determined campaigning could defeat this uncertain Government's planned attacks.

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