Academies Bill

18 Jul 2010

 The Academies Bill come to the Commons this week and is set to be rushed through at a speed normally reserved only for emergency measures, such as counter-terrorism laws.

Why the rush? During the Academies Bill's process through the House of Lords, it soon became clear that the Bill was full of holes and uncertainties, with the minister repeatedly having to promise to come back to the House with answers he could not give at the time. 

Does Mr Gove not remember the Dangerous Dogs Act? Legislate rapidly and you often end up with unintended consequences.

In this case, it is not just dangerous dogs we are concerned with but the whole school system, since all schools will be affected if even 10% of schools take the academy route. There are important questions about, for example, the provision for Special Educational Needs.

To his  credit the new Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, Graham Stuart, has added his voice to those concerned at this unseemly haste. This shows encouraging Independence from the new Committee. 

As he told BBC Radio 4, 'it is unusual to push through legislation in this manner, particularly when it is not to do with a crisis.'

As he pointed out, if only a few schools take the academy route then 'the rushed legislative process is hard to justify'. On the other hand, if many do, then people 'will ask whether enough consideration has been given to the system-wide impact of this'.

The rush seems to be down to Michael Gove's desire to have new academies in place by September - always a ludicrous time-scale bearing in mind we are almost into the summer holidays.

There are serious implications for schools going the academy route - for example, they would become responsible for all major repairs to buildings. Think of discovering a problem with subsidence, for example.

And there are unknown consequences for local authorities, which will lose large chunks of income for each school that becomes an academy. That in turn could threaten their ability to deliver services for the remaining schools and to fulfil their legal functions as a safety-net on SEN and admissions.

It won't do for people to say that this is only an extension of the existing academy programme. It is not. It is quite a new departure. The old programme affected only failing schools. The new policy could affect the great majority of schools and plans to fast-track 'outstanding' schools. It has turned the existing policy on its head.

There is a lot to be said for schools and head teachers having as much freedom as possible -- but most of them would say they already have it (at least as far as interference from local councils is concerned ...freedom from central government is quite another matter).




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