The government just tried to sneak through a massive U-turn on academies, hoping nobody would notice

Mark Turley

The Conservative government has been forced to climb down on its controversial policy to force all schools in England to become academies. But it did so quietly, in the hope no one would notice.

Education for all bill

The ‘education for all’ bill, a flagship policy of former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, was consigned to the dustbin of history on 27 October. But rather than abandoning it through an official announcement, new Education Secretary Justine Greening tacked it onto the end of another statement. She introduced a new technical and further education bill which reversed her predecessor’s legislation, without referring to it directly.

First announced during the Queen’s speech on 18 May, the ‘education for all’ bill stirred massive controversy. Despite being trumpeted by several leading Conservative figures, particularly George Osborne during his budget speech, it received cross-party condemnation and was slammed by educators.

The bill intended to force all schools in England to become academies. This would remove education from the control of local authorities and place it in the hands of the market. Headteachers would be free to run schools as businesses and set teacher pay rates as well as their own. They could also explore their own funding streams. Many such schools rent out their playing fields, or open their gyms to the public, for example.

Academy controversy

Since starting under Tony Blair’s New Labour government in the 90s, academisation has proved increasingly controversial. Evidence that becoming an academy improves standards is disputed, while the target-driven culture of academisation has led to many cases of results being fiddled to tick boxes.

Worse than that, academisation has promoted the growth of academy chains run by private companies. One such example, the Aspiration Academies Trust, run by former headteachers Paula and Steve Kenning, has a track record of awarding its executive heads six-figure salaries while cutting back on school essentials, like support staff. In other cases, failing chains have been sold on for enormous profits.

Education for kids, or for cash?

While the abandonment of the ‘education for all’ bill is to be welcomed, following months of protest and even governmental disagreement, Education Secretary Justine Greening continues to draw worrying conclusions. Free market ideology still runs rampant.

Greening said:

Our ambition remains that all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings… Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily.

The battle may be won, but the war is not over.

Get Involved!

– Find out about the work of the Anti-Academies Alliance here.

– Read other Canary articles about the government’s assault on education here.

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