Michael Gove wants every school in the country to become an academy. The announcement has met with mixed reactions: rapture from some heads, a shrug from most, and fury from the Unions. I’m open minded. There are, however, a couple of big circles that need squaring.
First, local authorities don’t just do strategic oversight. They also provide vital support services to children who have been excluded or have special educational needs. Schools that opt of local authority control will now be able to keep the 10 per cent of their grant that they currently contribute to fund these services. Starving these already hard-pressed services of funds won’t help vulnerable children.
Second, Gove has argued that enhanced parent choice won’t increase inequality. I don’t think this is a given. We need to hear how he will ensure that disadvantaged parents will take advantage of the choices open to them. Otherwise there’s a risk that the current middle-class monopoly of good schools will get worse. Labour recognised this challenge and came up with the (pretty ineffective) school choice advisers. The challenge is for the new coalition to dream up something better.
Finally, schools need to be accountable to communities. Schools serve a far bigger group of local people than just parents. The challenge for the new coalition will be to develop new frameworks that deliver this community accountability in the absence of local government control. To solve this I’d hope that we’d see proposals to allow school governors to play an enhanced role in the running of schools.