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
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:-
They also get to claim “Hey look, we’re the listening government!”
At this point there’s only really one thing to do.