14 September, 2012 Add comments
By David Hough
Andrew Adonis was the principal driving force behind the education reforms of New Labour, his main contribution being the development of the academy and he puts forward a twelve point plan for reforming schools in England.
There are a number of ideas which I can agree, subject specialism for teachers through most of the school system, greater democracy and citizenship (including votes at sixteen), greater provision at the pre-school stage, and streamlining of governing bodies.
Adonis seems to see academies as the only way to improve educational standards in underperforming schools saying, “It is urgent that all underperforming schools, primary as well as secondary, become academies.”
However, he is uncritical of how the coalition government reversed the policy, when instead of concentrating on the failing schools they set about turning outstanding schools into academies. Although this was the end game of Adonis’s policy he fails to defend it, as there remain some 650 failing comprehensives which you’d expect him to believe were the priority.
One of the big concerns with academies was how they would affect surrounding schools, taking away funding for these big new projects. He is very dismissive of these, saying that the evidence shows surrounding schools raised their standards to compete. However, he doesn’t say how these schools were doing before the academy came into being, whether they were good schools, or improving, as otherwise they would have been academy candidates themselves.
Adonis does not really acknowledge the doubts that parents and indeed many educational professionals have with sponsors, principally as academies are outside of local authority control, these sponsors could have a counter-productive influence on the curriculum and the running of the schools.
He also doesn’t really address another reason for opposition and how experience, as well as ideology will have affected views. He writes extensively about the failures of past reforms but doesn’t consider whether this is what worried opponents, another expensive and complicated reform, that would do little or nothing to improve education or the life prospects of children.
Andrew Adonis supports the free schools which Michael Gove has introduced, seeing them as, ‘academies without a predecessor state school.’ He completely avoids telling us that free schools can be established in any building that is not necessarily fit for purpose, and that they do not have a requirement to hire qualified teachers.
He does not mention at all the New Schools Network which has the sole responsibility for deciding whether a free school has a viable business plan and as we have seen in recent weeks, there are faults, as schools can have their funding withdrawn very late, meaning parents and local authorities have to find places very close to the new term.
The Conservatives in government will love this book, because it supports their ideas that it is by involving those considered the drivers of the economy is the best way to go. The left will generally hate it, especially those who were against the academy idea from the outset, as it confirms all their prejudices, not only about New Labour but also about the possible dangers of allowing companies to take over schools.
You can read a longer version of David’s review (here)