Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Academies Bill

The run up to summer recess in the Commons, much like the end of the school term, is usually a relatively sedate period. But this year in the Commons the mood is anything but relaxed. MP's are today voting on the academies bill, which has controversially flown through the house thanks to legislation designed expressly for emergency anti-terrorism measures.

The speed of the bills passage has drawn criticism from both sides of the Commons. While Ed Balls called the decision an abuse of parliament, Chair of the Education Select Committee, Conservative MP Garham Stuart, told the BBC that 'it is unusual to push through legislation in this manner, particularly when it is not to do with a crisis.' Adding that people 'will ask whether enough consideration has been given to the system-wide impact of this'.

While Michael Gove and Ed Balls butted heads in the chamber on Monday last week, outside the DfE hundreds of teachers were in an equally vociferous mood, taking part in a large protest against the cancellation of the BSF programme.

In the DfE - the post election honey moon is well and truly over.

The governments desire to see the academies bill passed into law by the summer recess is understandable, if only from a political perspective. Of the schools which have confirmed their desire to become academies, Michael Gove is desperate that at least one should be open by September, in order to show his ambitious programme of reform is under way. It's difficult to imagine many headteachers vying for that prize and the inevitable media circus that will accompany the first day of term.

Certainly there are elements of the bill which are warmly and universally welcomed, the increased emphasis on CPD for teachers is key among them. But the lack of clarity on the wider implications of the reforms is worrying for teachers and pupils alike.

Because of how new schools will effect local funding arrangements, this bill will impact on every student in the state education system. Without passing judgement on the bill itself, it is right to argue that simply not enough is known about this far reaching legislation.

Last Monday's debate in the Commons, was the last chance to debate the content to the bill. Sadly for all concerned, the session generated more heat than light, with little new detail on the more controversial elements. This combative debate showed clearly why the expert committee stage, which was abandoned for this bill, is so crucial for parliamentary scrutiny in our democracy.

The capacity of this bill to help some pupils is not in doubt, but there is concern that the current plans do not amount to a coherent strategy to improve standards in all our schools.

Michael Gove has suggested that all academies would work with a struggling school in their area. But the text of the bill reveals that this is merely an expectation of the government, and no ruling or structure exists to ensure that they do.

The same expectation exists around consultation between schools and parents on the decision to become an academy. The bill states that governors must "consult such persons as they think appropriate" but that this consultation can take place "before or after an academy order is made".

The impact on those schools left behind when a neighbour becomes an academy should have been closely examined before this bill becomes law. We simply have no idea what will become of the shared networks and organised provision provided by the LEA if schools in their area opt out and begin to draw money, pupils and future funding away from existing schools.

These changes are of huge significance to the education landscape in our country. With all reforms of this scale, the real impacts will take many years to reveal themselves in data on the ground.

These proposals should have been expertly and impartially examined, rather than pushed through parliament with a haste previously unheard of for such complex and far reaching legislation.

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