Signifying nothing

The Secretary of State for Education has given another speech this morning. This time to the National Association of Head Teachers, where the reception was by all accounts less than fulsome, with heckling in the hall.

The speech has been described as containing some important policy clarifications. Has even been suggested that there are “climb-downs” on the matter of forced academisation.

This is, of course, nonsense.

First lets look at the wording of the White Paper on the matter of forced academisation:-

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So this is clear. Apart from exceptional circumstances (important local MP, perhaps) “the smallest” schools will form or join a MAT. And then we have “successful, sustainable schools will still be able to continue as Single Academy Trusts if they choose to do so”. Leaving aside the quite important issue of defining successful and sustainable this is also clear.

So how does the speech seek to clarify these issues? Here is the relevant section, firstly on successful and sustainable:-

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and on the issue of small schools (for small, read ‘rural’):-

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So as far as I can see there is absolutely no change on the issue of all schools being forced to become academies.

The expectation remains that all small schools will become academies and join MATs. Until someone provides me with some other criteria I am going to assume that the definition of small is a primary school (other than perhaps the biggest titans). And as has been pointed out by many others rural schools are already closing, not because of this policy, but because of financial cuts. It’s notable that there is no promise to prevent this.

As you can also see there is no change to the wording around “successful, sustainable schools”. It simply becomes “successful, sustainable standalone academies”. In fact, if I were to be particularly picky, the choice of the word “standalone” in this context is pretty pejorative. “Standalone”, not collaborative like all the other nice schools. But that would, as I say, be picky.

Given the current financial forecasts facing them I struggle to see how, without the support of a well-resourced LA (or MAT) anything other than a fairly large secondary could be described as sustainable.

If the DfE wants to properly clarify its position then it has to provide explicit guidance as to what it means by “successful” and by “sustainable”. It needs to clarify how and when this test will be applied and, importantly, who will apply the test. It needs to explain if it is a one off test, or, more likely, a test that will be applied again and again. The latter is very important, as we really don’t need any more accountability measures to distort what schools do.

All I’m asking for here is openness and honesty. Saying the same thing over and over again in different places and having others saying “it’s a change, it’s a clarification” is not actually the same thing as changing or clarifying. It’s a political tactic which is not helping any positive argument there may be for academies.

It’s not open and it’s not honest.


PS Someone else can write the post explaining why this bit is a complete nonsense because I’m sick of saying it.

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