Forced Academies U-turn: only half a victory

Submitted by Matthew on 11 May, 2016 - 3:59 Author: Patrick Murphy

Nicky Morgan's announcement that she was withdrawing proposals to legislate to force all schools to become academies was both a real success and a major danger to the campaign against forced academies.

On 6 May, Nicky Morgan announced that, as a result of listening to MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents, she has decided that, while reaffirming our continued determination to see all schools 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.

The speed and breadth of the campaign to expose the weaknesses of this proposal undoubtedly had the effect of mobilising maximum opposition before the government had got its act together.

There is no doubt that the internal Tory opposition was a significant factor as Morgan and Cameron clearly calculated that they might not get these measures through Parliament. As the campaign developed there were more and more reasons to think that was an accurate calculation. A retreat was always possible but the most likely version seemed to be a recently-leaked suggestion that the best Local Authorities would be allowed to form their own multi-academy trust (MATs).

On the surface the announcement is better than that, but the Department for Education (DfE) were careful to reaffirm their objective to make all schools academies, clearly they feel like they can achieve their aims just as well without the blanket conversion. Even if you allow for a certain degree of standing on pride to cover a retreat, they are right about that. The existing legislation around academies (especially the recent Education and Adoption Act) and the revised proposals Morgan made on 6 May threaten to have much the same effect as the proposals she abandoned.

This includes: " Every single school rated inadequate by Ofsted being turned into an academy." Coasting schools being put on a notice to improve. Definitions of coasting are very opaque but it is clear that it will be based on data on pupil progress (and, in primary schools, attainment) over a three year period. Primaries will need to be below standards in attainment and progress to fall within the definition.

Progress measures are, in primary, progress from end of KS1 to end of primary school and, in secondary, progress from entering school to leaving as measured by Progress 8. "All schools in a Local Authority will be forced to convert if (a) the number of academy schools in that area reaches a critical mass which means that the Local Authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools or (b) where the Local Authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools. Meaning Local Authorities deemed to be failing will have all their schools handed over to an academy chain, regardless of what the individual schools want, or the performance of individual schools."

The DfE will continue to encourage good schools to convert and form MATs to support other schools. It is vital, therefore, that the campaign (under whatever label, Hands Off Our Schools, Rescue Our Schools, No Forced Academies) continues with the same energy and drive. The momentum built needs to be turned into opposition to as many individual conversions as possible, and an education campaign on what the academy plan means for our school system, and what a different system could look like.

It is clear from the points above that every school that converts brings all the other schools in its area closer to that critical mass which would force all schools to convert. That should make it much easier to argue that a decision by a school to become an academy is not a matter only for that school or only affecting the pupils, parents and staff at that school.

We also need to press Labour local authorities to take a harder line on academy proposals in their areas. They don't have the power to prevent conversions but they can and should put more obstacles in the way, promote themselves as the most effective school improvement support service and the advocate for all children and, under no circumstances, promote academy conversions.