At first glance you might expect a report calling for the academies programme to be scrapped to be grist to the mill for those on one side of what has been one of the most contentious education debates in England.
But, on closer reading, the recommendations from former Department for Education adviser Tom Richmond in a report this week could also be viewed as advocating the wholesale academisation of the school system.
Yes, the report calls for an end to the academies programme and academies as a category of school. But the plan would also mean the end of maintained schools and moving to a system where all schools are funded directly by government and sit either as independent state schools or as part of wider school trusts.
This sounds an awful lot like what the original vision for the expanded academies programme was back in 2010.
So why the mixed signals? Because the report – published by the EDSK thinktank –is not really taking sides in the academy debate at all. It seems to be attempting to end it by offering a different way forward that would end both academies and maintained schools in their current guise.
The end of academies?
And perhaps the most significant thing it recommends is not the change to school status but the scaling back of the power of academy chains, or multi-academy trusts as they have become known.
MATs would still exist as “national school trusts” under EDSK’s vision. But their member schools would have more autonomy than they do under current MAT system. Each school would be its own legal entity with a governing body and the ability to leave or move between trusts.
The power over admissions would also move. Currently academies are their own admissions authorities but under the changes proposed this arrangement over how schools admit pupils would be decided across an entire district or county – rather than school by school and trust by trust.
Richmond describes his report as building on the best of both of the two worlds – giving heads autonomy and encouraging schools to collaborate while at the same time improving local accountability.
It will be interesting to see how much support it garners from either side of the debate.
Leaks from Gavin Williamson’s Department for Education suggest that it is planning yet another push on free schools and academisation, so any major changes to school structures may be unlikely in the near future.
But the new EDSK report does offer a frank assessment of some of the problems within the current system and an intriguing insight into what the future of schools policy might look like if priorities at Sanctuary Buildings were to change.