Taking place on the same day that the academies bill passed into law, this committee gave the impression of inspecting the gate after the horse has bolted. Nevertheless the scrutiny applied by the panel showed clearly why these expert committees are so important for democratic scrutiny. The lack of the combative accusation throwing which characterised the debate in the Commons was refreshing for those education professionals keen to tease out the real key details behind the new coalition education policy.
Mr Gove, setting out his agenda for change, spoke at length of his desire to increase social mobility in school. "Rich thick kids to better than "poor clever" children, said Mr Gove. This unwise use of language generated criticism from teachers unions and grabbed the headlines.
Despite this there were some interesting points were raised and some long running questions clarified:
- Permanent Secretary David Bell took responsibility for the failure to cross check the BSF list with Mr Gove. Bell said: "I think it was a mistake not to put to the secretary of state the possibility of checking the list with local authorities and I take responsibility for that."
- Michael Gove said that he would welcome applications to open atheist or 'free thinking schools' under the new legislation. This specifically related to a statement by Richard Dawkins that he would be interested in
- Nearly one third of the expressions of interest in the free schools legislation have been from religious groups or institutions.
- Despite the 'haste' with which the bill was pushed through parliament in order to ensure that academies could open in September, it is unlikely that any will be open on the time scale the government desires.
- Labour MP, Graham Allen, will chair a new independent commission which will examine how to increase social mobility in schools.
- Despite the claim from the DfE that over 1000 schools and expressed interest in the academies programme, only 153 have actually applied to being the process, raising serious questions about the need to rush through the legislation at all.