IT occurs to me that I am occasionally sexist as only Tory men get it in the neck. Let’s put that right by having a go at Nicky Morgan.
The education secretary is every bit as irksome as David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt and other assorted Conservative males. So well done to her for sticking up for the sisterhood and proving that Tory women can be just as annoying as the men.
As the public face of the Government’s plan to force all schools in England to become academies, Morgan is high-handed, condescending and bullying. Although fair play to her, she did have the guts to stand before the conference of the NASUWT teachers’ union and tell them that they would just have to jolly well do what she said – or stay in for detention for the next four years.
Here is what she actually said: “The teaching unions have a choice – spend the next four years doing battle with us and doing down the profession they represent in the process, or stepping up, seizing the opportunity and promise offered by the white paper and helping us to shape the future of the education system.”
Now there is one fly in the angry ointment of my theory. Although Morgan is in charge of education, the academies announcement was actually made in the budget by George Osborne. The chancellor grabbed this one for himself in a telling piece of political theatre, another smoke-and-mirrors conjuring trick among many. Under Osborne the “penny on a pint” budgets of old have become deeply political affairs.
Turning all schools into academies is a hugely important matter, the biggest change in education in decades – and yet it was bundled into the budget. That hardly sounds like the proper time or place to be discussing something so far reaching.
The original aim of academies, as introduced under New Labour, was to boost failing schools. The Coalition government took the idea further – and now the Tories-only administration is ordering all schools to become academies.
It is true that having outstanding heads managing a number of schools might well raise standards. Yet the evidence for the benefits of making all schools academies is contentious. Academies are in themselves neither better nor worse than schools under the control of local authorities; some are better, some are worse. So why the bullying rush?
There are worrying implications here. David Cameron says he wants to ‘free’ schools from the control of local education authorities; yet why are local authorities being shown in this bad light? Many do and have done an excellent job, and many Conservative authorities are among those complaining about the move.
It seems odd for the government to champion devolving power to the regions while at the same time removing regional control of schools, and instead putting education more directly under the control of the government. While also semi-privatising schools so that they are run by academy chains. The long-term danger here is that these schools will in the end be in essence private schools.
Nicky Morgan has an answer for this. It’s an annoying answer so don’t splutter your porridge. She says it is the role of authorities to attract businesses to their area – and attracting academy chains will be just the same. So she is already seeing schools as businesses. That ought to set the end of lesson alarm bell ringing.
In case you have forgotten, the government earlier indulged in an expensive and harmful restructuring of the NHS. Once again ideology and a desire for another big-fix structural reform have put stars in their eyes. And with stars in your eyes, you can’t see where you are going.
Incidentally – or perhaps not so incidentally – the Perry Beeches academy trust in Birmingham is to have its five academies and free schools handed over to a new academy trust after a critical investigation by the Education Funding Agency.
This found financial shortcomings at Perry Beeches, including, according to the Guardian, “third-party payments made to the chief executive, Liam Nolan, on top of his £120,000 salary as executive head teacher”.
You might not be surprised to learn that David Cameron and former education secretary Michael Gove in the past praised the Perry Beeches academies to the skies.