Academy schools are breaking down social segregation not fueling it
Where there are bad state schools those who can afford to (even if they are Labour voters, even if it means missing a holiday abroad) are likely to pay fees to send their children to independent schools. Where the state schools are good they are less likely to do so. Academy status for schools and the opening of free schools have been forces for driving up the standards of state education. Therefore they have the impact of breaking down the class divide of social segregation.
Yet the Academies Commission report says:
Evidence to the Commission illustrated the impressive commitment of many academies to social inclusion but this did not extend to all that we saw. The Commission views social segregation in the school system as a problem for equality of opportunity and to system improvement.
It heard, for example, of some academies willing to take a ‘low road’ approach to school improvement by manipulating admissions rather than by exercising strong leadership. It is vital, as academies begin to assert their independence more vigorously, that such practices are eradicated.
Which academies? What evidence? Shouldn't they put up or shut up? What has happened is that the National Union of Teachers and assorted left wing pressure groups sent in attacks on academies. Then the Commission decides to accept "concerns" from these outfits at face value. But I couldn't see any evidence of an academy refusing a place to a child who was entitled to one. There was a swipe at the Canary Wharf College, a free school in Tower Hamlets, but their admissions policy looks clear enough to me. If a child from a low income family has been unfairly turned away from this school then let's hear about it.
Many residents I represent in Ravenscourt Park Ward in Hammersmith and Fulham, rich and poor, are sending their children to the West London Free School. A quarter of the pupils are on free school meals. There are others whose parents who could easily have afforded school fees. But instead they decided that with a fantastic school, teaching Latin, just round the corner, they don't feel they need to. That does not sound to me like a school whose establishment has increased social segregation.
Really the report is a summary of whining, vested interests and ideological prejudice, One submission to the Commission from the Centre for Public Scrutiny says:
We are keen to explore what is the appropriate role of councils in terms of holding academies to account on behalf of the whole community.
My answer is none. The academies are accountable the parents who choose to send their pupils to such schools.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services frets:
The new ‘Fair Funding’ Proposals severely restrict the capacity of local authorities or indeed any other body outside the academy chains to build upfunds to support schools that are failing and need extra investment. Currently, Schools Forums agree to a top slice to fund interventions where the investment needed is beyond the capacity of the budget of the school concerned. This will be banned by the new Schools Forum regulations .
Rightly so. When the ADCS talk about "investment" they mean a fudge to delay taking difficult decisions. They mean betraying children by taking money from good schools in order to keep unpopular failing schools continuing when they should be closed or taken over.
The Commission says:
The current emphases on choice and diversity may go some way to improving the school system in England, but they are likely to hit a ceiling because of the lack of engagement with (or even negative impact on) disadvantaged families.
In other words that the poor care less about school choice than the rich. I know this to be patronising rubbish. Yet on the basis of such an assertion the report suggests that the education reforms should be slowed down.
How will David Cameron react? His Party Conference speech offers a clue:
It’s that toxic culture of low expectations – that lack of ambition for every child – which has held this country back.
Well, Michael Gove and I are not waiting for an outbreak of sanity in the headquarters of the NUT or an embrace of aspiration in the higher reaches of Labour before we act.
Because our children can’t wait.
So when people say we should slow down our education reforms – so adults can adjust to them, I say:
I want more free schools, more Academies, more rigorous exams in every school, more expected of every child.
And to all those people who say: he wants children to have the kind of education he had at his posh school …I say: yes – you’re absolutely right.
This report will be consigned to a Downing Street waste paper basket. Deservedly so.