Summer is upon us, and teachers and pupils across the country will be looking forward to a well-earned break. It is also a time for reflection and looking ahead to new challenges.
Government and the schools inspectorate can certainly be relied upon to give us plenty on which to reflect. The forthcoming Education and Adoption Bill will loom large in our thoughts over the coming months.
For the uninitiated, Nicky Morgan intends to push through a Bill that will seek to convert “up to 1,000” schools to academy status, including those which are deemed to be “failing” – in some cases by inspectors now sacked by Ofsted. Headteachers will be sacked, governors will be replaced and staff morale will fall, and this will often be against the wishes of parents.
The pupils, too, will be affected, not least at those schools which are defined as “coasting”. The simple reality is that well-functioning schools will be converted if this Bill passes unamended.
What we can be certain of is that the academies programme is an obsession. Academy status as the automatic route to higher standards is, however, without an evidence base.
Even worse for Ms Morgan and Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector at Ofsted, there is now a mountain of evidence which shows that there is no academy effect on standards in schools – the Education Select Committee remains unpersuaded and the Sutton Trust described the poor results of whole academy chains as “a clear and urgent problem”.
There were at the last count 133 academies deemed “inadequate” by Ofsted – a figure, incidentally, that was prised from the education secretary with great reluctance during a recent House of Commons questions session.
A change in structure is not axiomatically the path to school improvement. It is irresponsible to tell parents otherwise.
Headteachers are already in short supply, so how will the promise to sack more of them – found within the Education and Adoption Bill – be at all workable? Where does Ms Morgan imagine that new teachers and heads will come from to take over the running of “failing” and “coasting” schools?
Along with the Local Government Association, the NUT believes it should be the job of local authorities to assist schools. This would be preferable to sacking headteachers and silencing opposition to academisation by doing away with the already minimal level of consultation that is currently required – a clear attack on civil liberties also in Ms Morgan’s Bill.
The education secretary’s priorities certainly require improvement. Instead of this unnecessary legislation, she should seek to protect the education budget – schools are facing up to 10 per cent cuts in real terms. She should also seek to tackle the teacher shortage, the school places crisis and the burning issue of workload.
Those should be her main concerns and each one would have real, lasting and positive effects on schools and their performance. Progress on these would be likely to gain support from teachers.
As it is, I regret that we face another year of teachers and schools doing the best they can in increasingly difficult circumstances.
In the meantime, have an outstanding summer.
Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk