The government’s plan to make all schools convert to academy status over the next 6 years is an example of the sort of policy-making that gives politicians a bad name. It creates huge disruption and uncertainty without having any clear benefits.
But in the debate following the announcement, I have found myself frequently more annoyed by some of the critics of the plan than by the government. The reason for this is simple: I work for an academy. So do most secondary school teachers. And too much criticism of the plan has focused on the pretence that academies are evil. I don’t mind people pointing out that academies are not a magic bullet. I don’t mind people pointing out the problems with accountability. I certainly don’t mind people pointing out the problem with the government’s plan. But enough with the sweeping generalisations about academies.
Two things have really annoyed me in the last few days. One was an infographic shared on Twitter (please note: this is not Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter account).
I can sort of guess where some of the claims here are coming from. Others leave me baffled. But literally none of them are actually facts that describe all academies and no LA controlled school.
Then, this morning, I saw Labour’s shadow education secretary retweet a link to this story from the Independent website with the following headlines:
Academies are excluding ‘poor quality students’ – yet more social cleansing from the Conservative governmentA recent report notes that academies “have developed behaviours that may have a negative long-term impact on society” as they “have become selective, do not teach their local community”
I was amazed to learn that: “we now have a move to deliberately exclude poor students from the best state education”. Apparently: “We must not allow academies to cleanse our nation’s schools of the students that feel they simply do not have time for”.
Now, some of this stuff would be at the very least highly debatable if it claimed to be talking about the average academy, or academies compared with LA schools or even the worst academies,. But in both cases the claims are made as if they apply to all academies, and at the very least they imply that what is described is normal for academies.
There is an irony here that the Labour Party and the left have been all too keen to accuse Tory politicians of “teacher bashing” and yet here we are where, in the name of ideological purity, we have people on the left describing thousands of schools, in fact a majority of secondary schools, and the hundreds of thousands of teachers who work in them, in terms that are so unjust as to be deceitful.
Academies are sometimes good, sometimes bad, just like LA schools. There are plenty of arguments to be had over how schools should be governed. But those arguments cannot be had sensibly if the starting point is that any claim can be made about the evils of academies, no matter how unfair it is to the people running them and the people working in them. Don’t tell me my school does not serve its local community. Don’t tell me that it is engaged in “social cleansing”. Don’t tell me it is run by a private company. Don’t tell me that my colleagues are unqualified. Don’t tell me that any of us care less about our students than we would if we worked in an LA school. None of this is true, and any campaign, any political point, based on these lies does not speak for me as a Labour member or as a teacher.