When is a U-Turn not a U-Turn?

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.

Think again.

4039649491_937f91b168_zCurrent 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.

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 57 : La mort d'Harold

“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?





13 thoughts on “When is a U-Turn not a U-Turn?

  1. Hi. I agree that these two clauses are worrying and that we need to continue to fight the privatisation- but this is a still a victory as you say the things to realise is that it is not the end of the battle.


  2. Not a U turn at all …a U bend at best…..it is a huge con! Any future SoS can with the stroke of a pen transfer the ownership of a MAT from one sponsor to another…….

    Remember the fable of the Frog and Scorpion?

    “Please give me a ride over the river ” asked the Scorpion.

    “Why?” said the Frog….

    “Because I cant swim” said the Scorpion.

    “Promise you wont sting me as we cross as we will both drown” asked the Frog.

    “I promise” said the Scorpion.

    Halfway across in the deepest part of the river the scorpon stings the frog and as they sink to the bottom and death the frog says
    ” Why did you do that?”

    The Scorpion replies ” Because it is in my nature”

    It is a cruel deception with the ultimate destination the same. It is in the DNA of the Tories

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think if I was scraping around for a positive lesson, it’d be that if we genuinely do unite the whole education sector – including, crucially, the most Tory-inclined part of it, the headteachers – then we really can stop them in their tracks. That does, however, rather underline just how much heads (or “leaders”, as too many prefer to call themselves) sold the profession down the river over the last 6 years by faithfully implementing policies like PRP.


  3. You are right. We must not let them get away with a tactical retreat for the reasons you set out so clearly. They have been severely weakened, so now is the time to follow up with further attacks. For the first time the ‘natural superiority’ of Academies has been successfully challenged. Sections of the media are slowly getting the message. We have to ram this message home, but challenging the claims for Academy success on their own definitions of good and successful schools is not enough.

    I often feel myself ploughing a lone furrow with my argument that Academisation is a consequence of marketisation and marketisation incentivises bad, behaviourist teaching and the notion that if students can’t understand Newton’s Laws of Motion then forcing them to wear a blazer and tie will do the trick. OfSTED is part of the conspiracy because OfSTED inspectors are obliged to make judgements on the performance of schools in SATs and GCSEs that have already been devalued by commercial exam boards and agencies that want behaviourist, drill and practise teaching to be shown to be working.

    The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) plot is broad, deep and promoted by hugely powerful forces.


    So the attack has to move on from comparing SATs, GCSE results and OfSTED judgements to exposing the horribly ineffective teaching methods that result from the GERM infection.

    Arguments like this one must therefore come to the fore and they must not be made by only me.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a “supine” headteacher, I could not agree with your work or words more. It has been the height of lunacy for this government to try and think – and it does – that it knows better than professional teachers and leaders how to run a school. The only reason that schools have gone along with the Govian reforms is because of fear, and because the Tory-dominated media slagging schools off to parents (as much as parents agree with teachers often) has created a public atmosphere where teachers are seen as lazy and poorly trained, and that the current government is (apparently) the first to do anything about that.

    The fact that they have failed massively to recruit enough teachers of quality to replace the enormous numbers fleeing the profession, never mind to populate the number of new schools being built, should be to their permanent shame and offers enough reason for Morgan, Gibb and Lord Nash to hand in their towels and spend more time with their families.

    The current issue of academisation militates against all that is local, communal and accountable and this is why it must be stopped. It is not the LAs’ fault – though it is their problem – that they are short of cash and hard up: it is government strategy, deliberately so. Good LAs (I happen to be in one! Hooray!) have spent wisely and cut, where necessary, with the greatest care. It is not easy for any of them, and yet many are even now breathing a sigh of relief that they will no longer be responsible for standards or school support. Some neighbouring authorities to where I work have no school improvement staff at all, and are relying on dioceses and academy chains to provide such.

    AS for my allegedly Tory inclinations – just once I voted for them, when I was 18, and I let Thatcher in by mistake. Learnt my lesson.


    • Thanks for the response Huw. It goes without saying that I don’t tar all Heads with the same brush, but I think that, collectively, heads have let down the profession. Apart from PRP, too many heads (particularly in the secondary sector) have hidden behind ‘direction of travel’ to carve out increased salaries and mini-empires for themselves by enthusiastically leaping into academy status when they didn’t actually have to.

      It used to be that the most important (and disastrous) division in the profession was between NUT, NASUWT, and ATL. Now it’s between those three on one side, and the “leadership” bodies on the other. I know this is going to sound harsh, but I think when a teacher responds to promotion by leaving the union of their former colleagues, in order to join a collaborative club of “leaders”, they’re making a very large, and not very pleasant, statement about how they see themselves, and where they perceive their personal interests to lie.


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