t the time of writing it appears
that the Education & Inspections
Bill 2006 is likely to become law in the autumn.
It is important to be clear about what the issues
are in relation to the new ‘trust’ schools
and what they are not. The Government is not aiming
to abolish comprehensive education. It is not bringing
in 100% selection where it does not already exist.
What it is aiming to do is to increase the diversification
of our comprehensive schools and the number of
state schools run by independent foundations or
as academies by private companies, religious groups
or other educational institutions. A common feature
of these structures is their relative independence
from Local Authorities.
Much of this is already happening. The academies
programme is in full swing and a fresh swathe of
new academies will be established in the autumn.
Foundation schools already exist and legislation
has been passed to ‘fast track’ the
move to foundation status with minimal consultation.
Interestingly the Bill does not refer to ‘trust’ schools.
This term has only been used in the wider political
debate. The Bill refers only to ‘foundation’ schools.
The former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly (quoted
in Governors News June 2006) provided little clarity
on this matter, defining trust schools as ‘foundation
schools with a foundation as distinct from foundation
schools without a foundation’. A foundation
school without a foundation has partnership governors
appointed by its governing body and still owns
its own land and buildings, controls its admissions
and staffing, just as a foundation school with
a foundation, or trust school, would do. So there
you have it!
What is wrong with introducing trust schools?
In my view it is wrong for a Labour Government,
relying on Tory support, to be encouraging private
companies to control schools. Just as with academies,
if a private company is the trust it can appoint
the majority of governors and therefore control
the appointment and possible dismissal of the headteacher,
strategic decisions on the direction of the school,
its staffing structure, the shape of its budget
etc. There are also inherent dangers in giving
these powers to religious groups. For example,
the academies run by the Vardy group in the North
East teach creationism. A majority of nominated
governors also means less representation for parents,
the community as a whole and the Local Authority,
unless the sponsor or foundation chooses to include
people from these categories among its nominated
governors, which seems unlikely. It should also
be noted that academies and foundation/trust schools
are /will be able to select up to 10% of their
pupils by aptitude.
There are also concerns about the transparency
of this process. For instance, the Times Educational
Supplement published some research (October 7 2005),
which showed that almost none of the new academies
had replaced failing schools, contrary to the claims
of ministers. Not one of the 28 schools replaced
by an academy up to that time was in special measures
at the time of closure. Indeed three highly successful
City Technology Colleges had been converted into
academies, receiving a total of £24 million
of additional public money in the process. It appears
that the DfES is interested in driving through
its academies programme whatever the cost. A spokesman
for the DfES dismissed these concerns as follows: “Parents
aren’t interested in semantics: what they
want is a good local school”.
As critics such as Compass have acknowledged,
the Bill as amended has some positive features.
For instance it does include measures to prevent
interviewing by church schools and to try to encourage
the new types of school to take measures to ensure
a balanced intake. The provision for trusts to
be based on collaboration between schools is a
progressive step. Thus in Havering four schools
are planning to collaborate over the delivery of
the revised 14-19 curriculum. However there is
no reason why legislation could not have been framed
to allow this sort of development without providing
private companies and religious foundations with
the means to control more schools
Present Government policies are likely to lead
to increasing competition between schools with
huge amounts of resources being pumped into the
academies in their initial stages (foundation/trust
schools do not receive additional public funding)
and the danger of sink schools developing. Sir
Peter Newsam noted in an article in the Times Educational
Supplement: “Fortunately, if Ofsted reports
are any guide, there remain hundreds of schools
which are successful and fully comprehensive, in
the sense of containing within themselves pupils
of all abilities and family circumstances.” What
is wrong with this? Surely what most people want
are good local schools not diverse ones.
What should a future genuine Labour Government
do about this mess? We are probably stuck with
the existing academies and foundation schools.
However the programme could be terminated so that
no further schools in these categories were established.
There needs to be a partnership between central
government, local government and school governors
to ensure that all schools are good schools.
The debate should be about what educational provision
should look like in the Twenty First Century, for
instance in terms of harnessing technological developments
to enrich and enhance children’s educational
experience and to make it more enjoyable, rather
than being about tinkering with the control of
Hey Blairites leave those kids alone!