Whitehall will centralise education at their peril

Whitehall will centralise education at their peril was first published on the News Hub blog.

David Cameron chose a Saturday in August to announce that he would like every existing school to become an academy.

Conservative policy is an extension of the previous Labour government’s flagship academy programme for failing schools but it has changed the marketplace.

The problem with this policy is that schools are about education and welfare not profit.

Successive Labour governments courted the wealthy as sponsors of academies but they did not relinquish their role in education.

Head teachers understandably want to manage their budgets but these Heads must be teachers not businessmen.

Mr Cameron’s conservative government has abolished the national curriculum for academies and free schools.

There will now be no common programme of study and the gap between English exam boards will widen.

In Scotland there is one exam board, everyone sits the same exam: there is no two-tier education system.  It is fair and transparent.

Mr Cameron’s free schools are unpopular because they have often been opened in places where there is a surplus of school places, rather than densely populated areas where schools are oversubscribed.

Like academies, free schools are publically funded but they are new schools.

Labour research in May 2014 found that only 28 per cent or 49 actual schools, out of 174 free schools, had reached their capacity for first year intake.

This means 72 per cent of free schools, or almost three out of four, had spare places during a national crisis where, every summer, parents wait anxiously to find out if their child has been offered a school at all, never mind the school of their choice.

It is shameful that the government is funding 1500 empty school places in free schools while other children languish on waiting lists and parents struggle to home school them.

Labour and Conservative governments have failed to plan strategically for school places from the time births are registered with GPs.

Successful schools, often maintained by local authorities, grow in a piecemeal fashion to meet fluctuating demand.

Local Authority schools become impoverished because government capital grants are for academies and free schools only.

Local Education Authorities continue to play a key role in admissions.

Taking schools out of local authority control is an abdication of Mr Cameron’s responsibility as Prime Minister and reveals how little his Conservative government cares about public services and, in particular, education.

The new world is one where profit matters more than children’s education and welfare.

Schools will sink or swim with business people making the decisions and with no prospect of a financial rescue package.

Heads will need to manage their budgets, nurture children’s intelligence, give them “roots and wings” and safeguard their welfare.

A Conservative government will centralise power in Whitehall without the expertise of teachers on the ground at their peril.

Many politicians have lost sight of the need for public services and the national curriculum.