After George Osborne’s most recent, and perhaps last, budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, a myriad of issues were raised. One of the most contentious was the Chancellor’s plans to expand the academy project to include every school in England. Osborne’s plans focusses on taking schools out of the hands of local authorities and giving complete control, with no supervision, to the individual school.
The plans would also mean an end to parent governors as, to quote the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, “being a parent is not enough to be a school governor” and a more “business-like” approach should be taken with the appointment of school governors. Of course, teachers and teaching unions are in uproar; aside from implications that academies don’t work there are also fears from teachers and teaching unions about the pay that they would receive – academies are outside national pay regulations for teachers.
Yet the concerns of teachers, at a time when teacher recruitment is at an all-time low and with a recent poll suggesting over half of all teachers wish to leave the profession, should not be theirs alone. The anxieties of the teaching community should be the concerns of us all. Whilst the issue may seem like it is solely for the left of the political system – and will surely be painted as such by the Conservatives – the government’s attack at the heart of the birth-right of every British person, to have a decent education must concern us all, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum. If the academy system worked, then the argument might be simpler – should the state have as much influence in the way that a school is run as it currently does? Yet the academy system has failed. The largest “chain” – the very word makes the children of Britain sound more like factory farmed hens than citizens – AET (Academies Enterprise Trust) is in a shocking state. 40% of all primary school children in schools run by AET do not get a “good standard of education”. It is even worse in secondary schools; nearly half of all pupils attend academies that are less than good. This is merely the tip of the iceberg – the second largest chain, E-ACT is doing just as badly with 23 academies rated “not good enough” by Ofsted.
The fact that we know this is solely thanks to Ofsted inspections. If the Education Secretary had got her way, Ofsted would not be able to tell us of this gross neglect by the government of educating the bloom of Britain’s youth. Morgan had attempted to block Ofsted from inspecting schools and publishing their reports removing a weakness for any opposition to point out the government’s failure. Osborne’s proposed plans to remove the ability of local authorities to supervise schools and the extinction of parent governors would be even worse than Morgan’s banning of Ofsted inspectors; it would mean bricking up Britain’s children behind a wall of failure.
The government’s actions therefore should concern us all. Rather than putting the educational needs of the public first, they are attempting to prop up a failed experiment with the shattered remains of local authority power. Rather than attempting to help schools in cooperation with local authorities the government has given companies like AET millions (AET’s most recent turnover was about £275 million, mostly coming from the Department of Education) to shift the problem onto them. The government has to realise that the problems with the education system can’t be simply licensed out to private companies to sort out.
Osborne’s political career seems to have been burned with this budget. Aside from the complaints aimed at education reform, the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith over planned cuts to welfare benefits have mortally wounded Osborne’s standing amongst the party. Recent polls have indicated that the public at large and Conservative party members are no longer backing cuts to public expenditure in the same way they did prior to the election – possibly partly due to Osborne consistently missing his targets and the economy not imploding as a result. Therefore, more so now than ever it is time to start properly investing in the education of the next generation. Not by shifting responsibility onto individuals and companies that do not have the capacity or will to do the job properly. That is why the acadamisation of schools isn’t just an issue for those on the left of British politics. It lies at the heart of a fundamental ideal; do we want a say in the way our schools are run, our hospitals maintained and our roads improved through our elected government or are we happy to let them be run by unaccountable businesses that fail at their task? That is why this is an issue for every single person no matter the political creed.