What do parents want from their children’s schools?
Quality teaching and a nurturing environment would probably be on most people’s lists.
Hiring lawyers and accountants to manage a transfer of land and buildings probably isn’t.
Yet by dogmatically pursuing a policy of forcing all remaining local authority schools in England to become academies that’s exactly what this government is doing.
Forcing all schools to become academies will do little, if anything, to improve the quality of education. The government constantly claims that changing schools to academies will automatically make them better. But many judged outstanding by Ofsted have seen standards decline since becoming academies, including a quarter of those inspected in 2015.
Evidence shows improved standards are not guaranteed and financial problems can occur – so it’s unsurprising that many schools are keen to retain the local links that they currently enjoy.
Forcing another 17,000 schools down the academy route won’t guarantee an improvement in teaching standards or financial management – and could quite easily have the opposite impact, forcing unnecessary changes on successful schools.
What schools need is stability, not constant faddish upheaval – especially when this wasn’t even in the Tory Party manifesto just a year ago.
With 250,000 members in support staff roles – half of whom are teaching assistants – this is a big issue for UNISON. These are the members of staff that are often the first to go when school funding problems hit. And despite being expected to keep children safe and happy, they don’t get the training and support they deserve.
We also know from the experiences of our members working in academies that they often face pressures around restructuring, loss of hours, changes to terms and conditions as well as increased workload and stress.
Whilst we’ll continue to fight for and represent members in academies, what UNISON wants to see is an integrated comprehensive system, and we believe that this programme undermines democracy and the accountability of schools to parents and local communities.
The local government leaders of the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and even the Conservative Party have raised their “enormous concern” over the plans.
Indeed many Conservatives appear to be rightly concerned by the attack on democracy and accountability at the heart of these proposals.
Roger Gough, the Kent Conservative in charge of education in the county told the BBC: “I don’t think there is demonstrable evidence that there is a systemic improvement in performance and certainly not anything that would justify upheaval on this scale”.
Conservative think tank the Bow Group opposes the plans because they contradict the “commitment to localism”.
Already over 140,000 people have signed a petition against forcing all local authority schools to become academies (if you haven’t signed the petition yet – please do so here).
And even in David Cameron’s own backyard of Oxfordshire, Conservative Councillor Melinda Tilley attacked the plans, saying: “I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that”.
Unfortunately for Melinda, and those who care about our school system – it appears that diktats from the centre are exactly how this government intendeds to run our education system. To the detriment of children, parents and staff alike.