With so little coherence at the heart of government, another contradiction has now been identified – this time over its education policy. According to Fraser Nelson in this week’s Telegraph, the 2022 Schools Bill
“says that academies and free Schools can still be independent - except for certain areas where they will be subject to Whitehall control. These include the “nature and quality of education,” “procedures and criteria for admission,” “suitability of staff” and “the spending of money”.
In other words: pretty much everything. It is a stunning power grab by the civil service, representing the re-centralisation of schools and the cremation of the original Michael Gove agenda.”
What is the point of making all schools academies with the flexibility and innovation to run things their own way if they are now to lose these freedoms?
As is so often the case, legislation was introduced to resolve one problem only to create a whole host of others:
“A small number of multi-academy trusts - about one per cent of the total - are financially vulnerable. So the civil service was asked to drum up legislation to deal with this, in addition to the more-pressing issue of creating a national register of children so we can see how many fell out of school during lockdown. With the autopilot machine switched on - and politicians’ attention elsewhere - Whitehall got to work. This would be the revenge of the blob."
The Education Secretary has woken up to what has happened and is now belatedly trying to resolve it. But the issue has exposed a more fundamental problem:
"The bureaucrats are back in charge, which is why the Department for Education has returned to its centralising norm. Gove used to talk about his department - or at least shrinking it to a minimal size and turning its headquarters into a school. But since he left, the number of DfE headcount has risen 39 per cent over the last five years to 12,800. The empire successfully fought back.
Gove’s original idea was to set up new schools in areas blighted with sink schools, to give parents choice. But bureaucrats have always hated the idea of opening new schools where there are places to fill in bad ones. The free school approval process has been steadily tightened so officials, not parents, decide if a new school is needed. This has fatally weakened the whole system, killing the notion of supply-side reform (and, for that matter, parent power). The number of new free schools peaked in 2013. They now make up just three per cent of the total."
If the government is to avoid betraying its base any further, recent developments need urgently to be reversed. The original policy was working well and beginning to bear fruit:
“Four in every five secondaries ended up reaching for the academy freedoms that Gove created in his Academies Act. The result? The Tories don’t really keep tabs anymore, but they do obsess about who gets into Oxbridge. State school pupils now account for 67 per cent of all such admissions, up from 55 per cent in 2010. This is, quite rightly, seen as progress. But what explains it?
Dig deep into the raw data and you find that the portion of state school pupils getting Oxbridge-style grades has risen by a similar degree. So Oxbridge admission simply reflects improvement in state schools, with the attainment gap forced to an all-time low. Like welfare reform, a Tory progressive triumph. And like welfare reform, a triumph almost entirely eroded by the devastation of lockdown.”
The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it: