An Open Letter To David Cameron On Forced Academisation

PMQDear Prime Minister,

I’ve just seen your performance at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions where you defended the government’s decision to force all schools to become academies. I notice you didn’t say that all schools will be forced to join multi-academy trusts (MATs) – a subtle but important distinction. As you know, there is considerable concern that  the education white paper’s reference to MATs – effectively abolishing single school academies – smacks of ‘pre-privatisation’ and will usher in the march of the robber barons, existing chains becoming rapidly larger, and mergers happening to ensure that there are a manageable number of trusts for your department to deal with. (Sir Michael Wilshaw recently felt that many of the existing large chains are performing worse than the local authorities they replaced, but that view was dismissed by your department – the wrong expert I guess).

However, you asked today that we consider the ‘evidence’ that schools do better when they become academies. Well, according to your Education Select Committee’s inquiry, published as recently as January 2016, there was no clear evidence that academies raised standards.  The select committee also expressed concerns about conflicts of interest in governance of academies, a lack of transparency and inadequate oversight, thus echoing Sir Michael Wilshaw’s complaints. The NFER report of 2013 also found no conclusive evidence that academies do better than non-academies in GSCE results. There appears to be no clear evidence that MATs (your preferred solution) do better than either individual academies, or non-academies. OFSTED (as you know you prevented OFSTED from inspecting academy chains) reporting that ‘In two of the largest chains, at least half of the schools were rated “requires improvement” or “inadequate”’.

If all that weren’t enough, the recent local schools network analysis also rubbished your ‘evidence’,

All of this suggests at best, you’re taking a selective view of the ‘evidence’, or at worst, simply ignoring evidence that doesn’t suit your policy direction. Today, however, you asked us all to be idiots, by claiming that, of the converter academies, “88% of them are either good or outstanding”, while ignoring the fact that 100% of ’converter’ academies had to judged as at least ‘good’, with outstanding features, before they could qualify for conversion. Does this mean that 12% have now become worse since becoming academies? In today’s world a dodgy ‘fact’ is immediately checked and within hours this – how shall we put it – ‘inconsistency’ was quickly revealed in the media.

You seem to be deaf to all of the voices objecting to the many successful schools and local authorities (and there are some, you know) being obliged to go through the expensive process of conversion when they neither want to, nor need to.

So be it. But at least have the grace to admit that the policy of ‘what works’ and evidence-based policy making is now over. What we appear to have in its place is the opposite – ‘policy-based evidence making’ – in order to support nothing more than ideology.

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