Extracts from an article by Guardian columnist Michael Rosen:
” … In one stroke, George Osborne has eliminated the public’s role in education where we live. Here he is explaining why: “It is simply unacceptable that Britain continues to sit too low down the global league tables for education.” In taking over ministerial responsibility for education, Osborne seems to have forgotten that this job applies only to England. The reference to “global” tables is part of the argument that says doing exclamation marks better than Johnny Foreigner enables British capitalism to compete better with the Chinese. “So I’m going to get on with finishing the job we started five years ago,” he continues, “to drive up standards and set schools free from the shackles of local bureaucracy.” …
… This is how it works: your school is a local authority school. When it becomes an academy, the local authority is compelled to give (for a peppercorn rent) a 125-year lease to whichever “sponsor” comes in to take over the school. Leaseholders have rights over the properties they have leases on, including, perhaps, permission to run a “dating agency” on school premises. Where Sir Greg trod, others are sure to step, too. In the case of “foundation” schools – schools whose ownership is in the hands of a trust – switching to academy status entails a direct transfer of freehold from the trust to the new sponsors. There is room for some serious cash to be made here.
There is room for some other jiggery-pokery too. On several occasions in the past few years, I have been invited into schools by people from the soon-to-be-extinct species, local authority advisers. At some point in our chats, they have taken me to one side and told me that central government, academy chains and individual academies do not have a duty of care for all children.
That is the local authority’s job. That duty covers vulnerable, “challenging”, at-risk, disabled, asylum-seeking and looked-after children. Advisers have told me they have found children who were once in academies somehow no longer being in academies, whether that is a result of the rush to improve test scores, prove “progress” or because of an unwillingness to spend money on supporting such children.
Who has picked up the pieces? The local authority. We can imagine the wall-to-wall academies landscape of the future full of the same urge to offload “difficult” children. In which case, impoverished local authorities will end up having to run impoverished “units” for them, won’t they?
In the academies themselves, other possibilities are taking shape. In 2012, while education secretary, Michael Gove released them from the requirement to hire well-paid, trained teachers. This “advance” has coincided with automated teaching appearing on iPads. Why employ people trained to teach, when a software company can do it for you?
A future beckons where the student will sit in a pod and press a button: the word “cheese” appears. The student types in “vache”, the machine says “no”. The student types in “fromage”, the machine says “yes”. An untrained operative walks past, nods, and walks on. One student is mucking about. The operative finds the student’s name on the discipline app, clicks on “negative comment”. As it’s the third time this week, the student’s name pops up on the deputy head’s screen. The student is sent off for an hour in the detention suite: no need for human contact – made all the easier through academicisation. …
… Now, with many more schools under direct rule, what has arrived are what Osborne in other circumstances might perhaps have called “the shackles of local bureaucracy”. They are the innovative but unelected regional schools commissioners, whose job is to do what local authority advisers used to do, but with hundreds more schools on their books. Not so innovative, then. Perhaps these commissioners have bought Gove’s illuminating maps so that when the light comes on, they jump in their cars and head for the North York Moors, or Dover.
One time-saver: when they get there, they won’t have to meet the parent governor. That job has just been abolished. Another local election bites the dust. We parents don’t need one of our own to keep an eye on what goes on in academies, do we? We might find that the academy head is running a dating agency.”