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Exclusive: School system I oversee is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ says Agnew

'I’m pulling at these levers and I find I have no strings attached to the bottom of the lever," says school system minister

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'I’m pulling at these levers and I find I have no strings attached to the bottom of the lever," says school system minister

The minister responsible for England’s school system has described it as a “dog’s breakfast” that frustrates DfE efforts to make changes.

Lord Agnew - whose remit includes academies - has said England has “one of the most fragmented education systems in the world”.

Speaking at this month’s national conference of the Institute of School Business Leadership, the peer, who founded his own academy chain - said this was due to the historical development of the country’s school system over a long period.

“It’s a dog’s breakfast," Lord Agnew said. "Every week I’m faced with this frustration. I’m pulling at these levers and I find I have no strings attached to the bottom of the lever."

To illustrate his point, he said he might want to take action regarding a particular school, only to be told he couldn’t because it was a foundation school which was set up “in 1560 or something”.

He did not mention the effect of large-scale acadamisation.

However Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes that “the rot really set in in 2010” with mass academisation.

She added: “I am delighted that Lord Agnew has finally agreed with what the NEU, and what the previous ATL and NUT said, about the consequences of mass academisation.

“I remember talking to Nick Gibb at the beginning in 2010, 2011, and saying to him that to fragment the whole system then when things go wrong, and they will, you will have no levers.

"Nick Gibb was unimpressed with that argument.

“It is great shame that in the mad rush to academise some basic thinking was not done about how to hold the system accountable.”

Lord Agnew is not the first education minister who entered government after a career in business who has expressed frustration with the workings of the state system.

Last year Tes asked his predecessor as academies minister, Lord Nash, how the machinery of government compares to that of the business world. He answered: “Slower, inevitably.”

Lord Agnew also told his audience of school business managers that there is “not enough school-to-school collaboration”.

He said this was “about picking up the phone to a school 100 miles away”.

In his wide-ranging speech, he also told school business managers that “we have tried to deal with the funding pressures”, but acknowledged “I know some people will say it’s too little or too late”.

He put an emphasis on eliminating waste from schools, saying that DfE financial trouble shooters had identified £35 million of “essentially misdirected resources” following 70 school visits.

Lord Agnew said this showed there was “a lot of potential” for schools to make savings.

However, he also acknowledged problems getting schools to engage with DfE efforts to help them save money though the national commercial deals it had negotiated, which he suggested might be "pants".


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