Much celebrating, and not a little gloating, has broken out on Edutwitter and in the media over the Tory “U-Turn” over forcing all schools to become academies.
Current opposition to Academies policy
As all Year 7 students know, one of the most important tactics William the Conqueror deployed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, was the false retreat. Some argue it was accidental, while others argue it was deliberate, but whatever the motive, it turned the battle.
Harold’s Saxon shield wall had been holding steady at the top of the hill. This was important for three reasons:
1) Harold’s untrained Fyrd had little chance against William’s mercenaries in hand-to-hand combat, and the shield wall offered protection in numbers;
2) William had superiority in cavalry, the panzers of the Dark Ages, but this superiority was largely negated by the shield wall tactic; and
3) Time was on Harold’s side. He was receiving reinforcements, while William wasn’t. A shield wall battle was brutal and exhausting, but whittling down the wall would take William’s soldiers a lot longer than disorganised combat, and that was time they just didn’t have.
Then, a group of William’s soldiers turned away from the Saxon shield wall, which had been holding rather nicely, and ran down the hill. Many of the nearby Fyrd, thinking that this was the breaking point, abandoned their positions in the shield wall and ran in pursuit of the retreating Normans.
They ran to their deaths.
Once away from the protective wall, they were at the mercy of the very cavalry and professional soldiers who they had held at bay when acting together. They were quickly surrounded, and slaughtered.
This fake withdrawal seems to have happened more than once, by some accounts, suggesting a planned tactic. And it worked. With each enthusiastic Saxon dash after retreating Norman backs, Harold’s shield wall became shorter, thinner, and more vulnerable. The rest, as they say, is History.
“On reflection, lads, maybe we shouldn’t have been so hasty?”
Now, consider Morgan’s “U-Turn”.
On the face of it, it looks like a retreat. Individual schools will no longer be forced out of LEA oversight and into private companies. Instead, the DFE will rely on schools seeing “the benefits of Academy status” and choosing to jump, rather than be pushed. Given that the rate of academization has been slowing, it’s probably overly pessimistic to claim, as some have already, that schools will see the “direction of travel”, and willingly leap to their own self-abolishing doom as part of a private MAT. In fact, one of the side-effects of this argument is that schools are now much more switched on to the actual consequences of joining a private MAT than perhaps they were before, so I’d bet that fewer would jump now than might have done before it became clear just what MATs actually are.
So this is great, isn’t it? Well, no. Look at the small print.
The government has said it would push forward with forced academy conversions in two circumstances:
- Where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because too many schools have already become academies.
- Where the local education authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools.
In other words, the DFE will no longer force 20,000 schools to individually convert to academy status, but will instead force their conversions an LEA-sized block at a time.
Look at those criteria again:
Who will decide whether a “critical mass” of academies has been reached? DFE and the RSCs who work for DFE, whose job description includes increasing the number of academies by hook or by crook.
Who will decide whether an LEA is consistently failing to meet a minimum performance threshold? Why, the DFE and RSCs, of course. How convenient.
“We’ve won! We’ve won! Hang on, I didn’t know we had horses….”
What’s going on here, is that the DFE is playing a much cleverer game than you’d expect from the chaotic organisation which has so badly fouled up the administration of primary testing. This is a false retreat, and it is designed to peel away a section of what had become an impenetrable educational shield wall.
Morgan’s cack-handed handling of this had united not just teachers and Local Authorities behind state education’s defensive shield wall, but also governors, parents, much of the media, and even a lot of Tory MPs. She’d even managed to provoke headteachers. Headteachers! The very group who have so far been so supine that they have actually imposed Govian “reforms” to the detriment of their own staff, while undermining action to oppose them! That’s quite some achievement. It’s as if William landed, and a whole section of his own troops promptly switched sides and went and joined the Saxons at the top of the hill!
She couldn’t break through that united opposition. But “divide and conquer” isn’t a famous saying for no reason. She’s setting about removing two sections of that shield wall with this false retreat.
Firstly, this is clearly a nod and a wink to Tory MPs that Tory-run local authorities will not have their schools forcibly stripped away from them. The two mass-forced-conversion criteria above are clearly aimed at urban and Labour-controlled authorities, about which Tory MPs care rather little. That, and the pretence at going back to a more Thatcherite “choice” approach will enable Tory MPs to vote through the Bill.
Secondly, there’s a whole bunch of the educational Fyrd who are going to run down the hill after Morgan’s “retreating” policy. Many of that previously solid shield wall, parents, governors, the sceptical media, are going to assume the battle is won, and all that’s left to do is loot the corpses and get drunk. It doesn’t matter if the Bill still passes, because the big threat is over – hooray for people power !
Then, when the wall’s broken, the Bill is passed, and everyone is slapping themselves on the back for their victory, Morgan will be back, slicing off a section of state education at a time, and handing it over to private companies.
There is an ideological – or perhaps financial – commitment to placing the entire state school budget in private hands which is truly awesome to behold. The commitment of the Govians within the Tory Party and the DFE makes William’s determination to seize the English crown seem like a passing whim. At a time when the DFE seems barely able to successfully navigate a revolving door, and both financial and recruitment crises are descending upon our schools, they are nevertheless willing to expend remarkable political capital to transfer all schools to private hands.
But then, when budgets this size are at stake, as we’ve seen with the doctors and the NHS, the Tories can be remarkably determined.
This is a false retreat. Those who can see it should do everything in their power to stop the break-up of our wall, or publicly-owned and operated schools in this country will go the same way as the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. And largely to the benefit of the descendants of the same bloody people!
Now is the time to open our eyes to what’s happening. But keep your shield up, hey?