For my next trick…

When a magician waves a pack of cards in front of your face and tells you to watch them closely you know that you really should be watching what he’s doing with the other hand. You do know that, don’t you?

Here’s a sample of the headlines that greeted a short interview the Secretary of State gave to the BBC:

BBC News – “Government climbdown over forced academies plan in England

The Telegraph – “David Cameron announces U-turn on academies following Tory rebellion

The Guardian – “Government backs down over plan to make all schools in England academies

The Daily Mail – “Nicky Morgan reveals humiliating U-turn on controversial plans to force all schools to become academies

So, its all good, right? No more forced academisation. It’s over. The backlash has prevailed.

Er, no. Not really.

Remember what I said about the magician? Well the same is true for politicans and words. Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. Carefully.

So look at the detail. And when you do that in this particular case the story is very different.

Remember how the question about forced academisation was always “Well how on earth are they going to do that? That’s way too many schools for them to convert one by one.” Well, I think they have realised that themselves and have come up with a different plan.

Let me set the scene. I posted recently about how the rate of academisation would have to increase dramatically in order to meet the 2022 deadline. Lets think about what will happen anyway. Secondary schools will continue to convert and by 2022 all those that could convert would have anyway. Those that can’t convert off their own back could be converted by DfE using their existing powers. So that’s secondaries taken care of. No additional forcing required.

Primaries are a different kettle of fish. Continuing at the same rate as now only around 40% of primaries would have been converted by 2022. Probably more now that DfE have struck a deal with the various religious groups re the nature of faith-based academies in MATs. So there would be around 60% of primaries not converted, still with their LAs.

Here’s where we need to watch the magicians other hand very carefully.

According to a report in Schools Week a spokesperson said the government no longer planned to bring in legislation compelling schools to convert, but would instead introduce new powers which will trigger conversion of all schools in an area if a council is underperforming or if it is no longer financially viable for it to run schools. The detail is in the DfE press release – Next steps to spread educational excellence everywhere announced

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Do you see how the trick works?

Remove around 70% of the schools funding from LAs and leave those schools that by their very nature need higher levels of support. Then apply a financial viability test to the LA. And when it is found wanting (as it inevitably will be) convert all the schools in the authority that have yet to convert. They will starve the LAs of resources in order that they “…request the DfE converts all of its remaining school.”

This is not a “climbdown” or a “u-turn”. No one has “backed down”. It is a political three card trick.

To be fair to the DfE, it’s very, very clever. It gets them out of two holes at once. Their original plan would never have passed through parliament. They didn’t have the votes. Even if they had the votes they would not have been able to do this one school at a time. There simply wasn’t the resource, either in the DfE, the EFA, the LAs or the schools for that. This way they get to do it wholesale, one authority at a time, picking them off as and when. Also to be fair, they’re quite blatant about the lack of change in the policy. Their press release is quite clear:-

“As a result of these conversations, the government has decided, while reaffirming our continued determination to see all schools to become academies in the next 6 years, that it is not necessary to bring legislation to bring about blanket conversion of all schools to achieve this goal.”

There’s even a graphic:-

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They also get to claim “Hey look, we’re the listening government!”

At this point there’s only really one thing to do.

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10 thoughts on “For my next trick…

  1. Isn’t it the case that LAs will lose more than just 70% of their funding though? My reading of the funding consultation (https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula/supporting_documents/Schools_NFF_consultation.pdf) is that LAs will lose all school improvement funding by the end of 2017, by which point they’ll have closed down any last remnants of their education departments, and resprayed their bureaucrats in MAT colours. There will be *nothing* left to support schools. The more nimble will have followed the lead of LAs like Staffs and Herts and set up procurement hubs, with or without private sector support, but all the money available to schools to buy things from them will have been routed through the RSCs. I’d bet that, over the next 18 months, the RSC offices will grow from 4 or 5 staff in each to 20 – 25, and that there will be beancounters involved.

    1. The 70% is an estimate based on the mix of schools converted and those left and tries to take into account some of what you have mentioned. I think the key point is that at this stage no-one really knows how much funding LAs will be left with to support some of the schools who are those in most need of support.

      1. You’re right … and uncertainty is *the* unspoken policy. It’s clearly an intentional strategy to confuse and unnerve, creating an unstable operating environment which is anaethema to the naturally conservative decision-makers in schools, who cannot take risks because of the possibility of negative outcomes for kids. Having the WP ‘out there’ for a month, partially obscuring the (far more destructive) funding consultation has assured its ‘success’, even though it has now been nominally withdrawn.

        Do keep blogging Mike … these are important records of a crazy moment!

  2. Not a U turn at all …a U bend at best…..it is a huge con! Any future SoS can with the stroke of a pen transfer the ownership of a MAT from one sponsor to another…….

    Remember the fable of the Frog and Scorpion?

    “Please give me a ride over the river ” asked the Scorpion.

    “Why?” said the Frog….

    “Because I cant swim” said the Scorpion.

    “Promise you wont sting me as we cross as we will both drown” asked the Frog.

    “I promise” said the Scorpion.

    Halfway across in the deepest part of the river the scorpon stings the frog and as they sink to the bottom and death the frog says
    ” Why did you do that?”

    The Scorpion replies ” Because it is in my nature”

    It is a cruel deception with the ultimate destination the same. It is in the DNA of the Tories

  3. In some senses, could you not say it was ever thus? The main reason so many secondaries converted in the first place was because it made financial sense for them to do so, i.e. They were bribed by central government. It seemed unnecessarily controversial for the government to “force” academies to convert, the government could just continue the bribe such that it became untenable to remain in the LA. Is that effectively what they will do now?

    1. Kind of an anti-bribe really. Stay where you are and we’ll reduce the support you can effectively get.

    2. Yes -= by reducing the support to LA’s such that they can not support their schools, which will then fail, and which will then HAVE to become academies to recover.

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