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Gove’s Free School Fetish Backfires in Spectacular Style.



Michael Gove’s misplaced  obsession with Free Schools and Academies, which was broadly supported by his Labour Shadows Stephen Twigg and especially Tristram Hunt was a blatant and un nuanced attempt to destroy Local Authority control of schools once and for all. Perish the thought that our places of learning be exposed to accountability to their local communities or be transparent financially and fully funded by our tax pounds.

Academies were started by New Labour and are schools that are run by a private sponsor . They are outside of the local family of schools, not accountable to the local community, allowed to set their own curriculum and terms and conditions for staff.

In September 2014 the Commons Education Select Committee received a report from the University of London which unveiled serious conflicts of interest that had arisen in the academy system since 2010. When the coalition took office there were 203 academies in England (with hardly any Primary Schools). By the 2015 election there were an astonishing 4,676. The report said that there was evidence that members of Trust Boards (who replaced the Governing Body) were, ” benefit(ing) personally or via their companies from their position.”  In addition the document submitted to MPs said, “Sponsors providing paid services (such as school improvement or back office services),through licensing arrangements which prevent schools using any other similar services.”  But most damningly, “More intangible conflicts (arise) that do not directly involve money. Examples range from the inappropriate control exerted in the Trojan Horse schools, to a trust being involved in decision making in relation to a school that they then sponsor, to an FE College deciding in its own interest to close the 6th form of a school which it sponsors.” +

Put in plain English the report is saying that private companies that sponsor our schools, and their Trojan Horse pseudo charity, “Trusts” are operating purely in self interest (as the market is wont to do) and can dish out contracts and influence beyond the scrutiny of the Secretary of State, never mind the local community.

This is bad enough. But there has not been ONE SINGLE report that supports the notion that academies raise standards. I am not one for elevating OFSTED to god like status when it comes to assessing schools, but even they can’t find and proof to encourage the idea that the academy programme is benefiting our kids.

In October 2015 the National Foundation for Education Research, a respected organisation said, ” Pupils in sponsored and converter academies make no greater progress compared to pupils in similar maintained schools”. 

So called Free Schools were the perceived panacea for all ills for Gove and the Tories. These schools went even further than the academies as they could be set up by parents or local interest groups and be completely independent when it came to stuff like employees terms and conditions and admission of pupils. According to data published by the DfE in August 2015 Free Schools received a stonking 60% extra funding per pupil compared to local authority schools. Despite this carrot England is proving resistant to Free Schools as all the evidence shows that, unless they have cranky motivations, the overwhelming majority of parents want to send their kids to the local school where they will be taught in a well funded and safe environment by qualified teachers. Thats’ why by the end of the last Parliament less than 400 Free Schools were open, or had been given approval to open.

But the reason why Tory MPs are suddenly in revolt is because Local Authorities are no longer able to set up or expand schools; the Government will only countenance expansion of academies or Free Schools. As there is such a paltry demand from parents, and the pool of schools wishing to convert is becoming ever smaller, the creation of new school places has all but dried up in the area which most need them in the South and South East.

The chronic lack of places is rapidly turning into a crisis and the Tory Local Government Association has demanded the Gove’s successor, the insipid Nicky Morgan revoke Gove’s ban on Local Authority powers to open new schools and expand existing LA ones.

This crisis is a toxic legacy from New Labour which opened a crack in the door to marketisation of education. The Tory led coalition enthusiastically kicked it wide open and now our young people are set to pay a heavy price. Part of the monumental failure produced by Labour at the election was their complete lack of vision regarding education which had been a major factor in their landslide poll victory in 1997. Then Blair made it clear that schools would be number one on his agenda. He slashed class sizes and poured cash into a starved system. The results were there for all to see. But then the hubris set in and his obsession with the market kicked in during the second term will all the good will and progress made starting to be wasted. Their performance in Opposition allowed a weak and potentially divided Government steam roller the concept of locally accountable and well funded schools into the dirt. The current paralysis at the heart of Labour means only a new Party can work with parents, teachers, employers and the community to produce the type of schools our residents need and and want.






+Conflicts of interest in academy sponsorship arrangements. A report for the Education Select Committee. September 2014 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/Education/Conflicts-of-interest-in-academies-report.pdf


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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