Dangerous ideas in the White Paper

Written by: Chris Keates | Published:
Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT

Total academisation is not the only deeply controversial policy within the new White Paper. The replacement of qualified teacher status is an equally dangerous idea, warns Chris Keates

The government’s White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere has generated a great deal of noise. Ask teachers, parents and members of the public what it is about, most would be likely to say that it is all about the government’s policy of forced academisation.

Not only is this policy wrong, but this focus on forced academisation is in danger of overshadowing another deeply concerning provision in the White Paper which has profound implications for the profession.

But before turning to that provision, it’s important to get the facts straight on forced academisation. First, the concept is not new. Schools have been forced into academisation since the Academies Act in 2010 by whatever means the government has had at its disposal.

Early adopters were bribed with financial incentives, Department for Education (DfE) officials cold-called schools to press school leaders and governors to academise, funding pressures have been exerted on local authorities to encourage them to support academisation, regional school commissioners were appointed with a remit to broker academies, and Ofsted outcomes have been used to pressurise schools to convert.

Most recently the Education and Adoption Act removed the requirement on the secretary of state to consult with governors and parents about academy conversion, giving her the duty to issue an academy order directly to any school deemed by Ofsted to be inadequate or to move towards academisation for schools identified as coasting.

The new element in the White Paper is the intention for all schools to convert to academy status by 2020 and for schools that don’t have a plan for conversion by 2020 to be forced into academies by 2022. Even this is not entirely new. It was announced by David Cameron in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October, long before the Chancellor announced it in the budget statement.

The government does not currently have the legislative power to force all schools to convert to academy status. New legislation will have to be brought before Parliament, no easy task given that ministers are facing deep opposition within their own ranks from Conservative councillors and backbench MPs who believe this is a step too far, running counter to localism and choice, which they assert is at the heart of conservatism.

There can therefore be no certainty the government will achieve its ambition and it is now widely rumoured that Mr Osborne’s statement was cynically designed to try to panic schools into converting.

The evidence that structural change in and of itself does not raise standards is clear for all to see. There are outstanding academies, outstanding community schools, outstanding foundation and trust schools.

It is ideology not standards driving the government’s agenda. Look no further than one of the most significant and deeply concerning proposals in the White Paper, which to date has had little or no attention – the replacement of qualified teacher status with a system of local teacher accreditation, recommended by individual headteachers.

This proposal will have major implications for teachers, for their professionalism, their pay and conditions of service and their status. In principle, there may be no problem with the concept of accreditation. Many professions have such a system through licences to practice, such as doctors and lawyers. The difference is that this is national, professional accreditation to set national standards, administered by national bodies to ensure equality, consistency and status.

However, following on from the removal of the regulations that required schools to employ qualified teachers, this proposal has dire implications for the profession. It will affect every teacher in every type of school.

It will affect pay levels, pay progression, promotion and it could even affect movement between schools if schools have no confidence in the process another school is using. It has the potential to adversely affect how the status of the profession in England is viewed in other parts of the UK and internationally.

Teachers will also see immediately that school-based accreditation has the potential for abuse, inconsistency and inequality – and how it could be used as a management tool, for example, to depress pay levels or to secure “compliance” from staff by withholding accreditation.
Dedicated, committed qualified teachers across the country will be deeply alarmed and demoralised by this development.

At a time when teacher supply is in crisis because of declining, uncompetitive pay levels and excessive workload this fundamental attack on the status of the profession will deepen the crisis.

This attack on teachers is also an attack on the entitlement of all children and young people to be taught by a qualified teacher and the right of parents to have that expectation when they send their child to school. We will be challenging these proposals vigorously.


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