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Memo to Ed Balls (and local councillors): Leave good schools alone

Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education says you don't strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

Speaking to the Association of School and College Leaders in Birmingham last week,  education secretary Ed Balls again confirmed his intention to force headteachers of good schools to 'collaborate' with their less efficient colleagues who run unpopular schools.

Raising the (scandalously low) levels of achievement in some schools 'is not just a challenge to some heads in some schools,'  said Mr Balls, 'but to all heads in all schools.'

This means that heads of schools that provide an effective education are not only responsible for results in their own school, they are also responsible for the failing school a couple of miles away.

Everyone wants to improve standards for youngsters who don't get a decent start in life. But Ed Balls refuses to acknowledge reality: good schools are good because, as far as possible, they ignore distractions and diktats from Whitehall and their local authorities.

Mr Balls personally leads a massive Department for Children, Schools and Families with around 4,000 employees and a multi-billion pound annual budget.  Nearer to the grass roots, England has 150 local
authorities.  No-one knows how many people they employ on education, but collectively, they too have multi-billion pound budgets.

There's an army of school inspectors and advisers, employed both centrally and by local authorities,  who are also supposed to resolve problems of under-performance. What are all these people for and what
have they been doing all these years?

During the last 12 years of socialist mismanagement, the system has deteriorated and most people know that. The misery is being spread, instead of being isolated and resolved.

Rather than leaving the good schools alone to get on with their work, Ed Balls and his predecessors have tried to micromanage the whole system.  They have been forcing good schools to 'collaborate' and 'federate' with unpopular schools for several years now, in the vain hope that the good will improve the bad or, at least, improve perceptions by rebranding.

Meanwhile, good heads and teachers have been distracted from their primary responsibilities by having to nip down the road to assist a failing school.

Instead of creating manageable schools of a reasonable size, Labour (assisted by some Conservatives) have amalgamated good and bad schools – rebuilt in some cases – to create massive institutions with 1,500 or 2,500 pupils.

Has it worked?  Hardly. The signs are already there that many of the business people who sponsored academies are disenchanted with the whole enterprise. Almost like lambs to the slaughter, they have been
brought in to manage, but aren't allowed to do so.  Nor are their heads.

Local authorities still retain immense power and influence in their areas, not least because they have local knowledge.  So why don't elected councillors unambiguously instruct their officials to concentrate all their time and effort on improving the bad schools and leave the good ones alone?

Shifting and spreading responsibility, as Mr Balls is doing, will never achieve anything.

Firm, sensible local management could succeed. But only if the best heads are allowed more freedom, not further constrained by a useless, bureaucratic establishment.


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