'How can we expect the government to listen if the moment it changes its mind we start crowing about U-turns?'

6th May 2016 at 16:04
Russell Hobby launches stinging attack on government
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, welcomes the announcement but warns against too much gloating

It was less than a week ago that school leaders were expressing huge concerns at the NAHT conference about forced academisation. The evidence in favour of forcing all good schools to convert seemed so slight. The costs seemed huge. 

The government has now changed their policy and will not compel all schools to convert. 

A small point to remember in our reaction: how can we expect the government to listen if the moment it changes its mind we start crowing about U-turns?

They have an idea. We point out a few problems. They adapt their ideas. This is actually the way it is supposed to work. If we want a constructive dialogue between profession and government it is going to involve challenge and adaptation on both parts.

With this announcement, we can now talk about all the other stuff in the White Paper on a much better basis. There are still areas of concern. The government retains the powers of conversion if an area loses the capacity to support schools. We'll need to discuss this further. 

The government has offered an olive branch to small schools, too, attempting to make clear that it does not want them to close down. I welcome this. These schools are the backbone of their communities. However, we need to be clear that this is as much about funding as academy status. We await details of the revised funding formula that will be critical to their future. 

What we really need to talk about now is capacity. Recruitment, places, funding. Structure has its place, but it is subordinate to all these things. The danger with structural change is that it is all consuming, as we have seen over the weeks since the publication of the White Paper. We want this to be the era of capacity building in education, focused intently on what happens inside the classroom and making sure our teachers have everything they need, from skills to clarity to resources, to perform at their best. 

So, not perfect. Other challenges remain. But we're heading into a sunny weekend that feels a little bit brighter now. 

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union

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