Editorial - The battle against academies was never about principle. And now dogma has had its day

15th April 2011 at 01:00

It seems that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has paused to reflect. At its conference next week, the most intellectually nimble of all the teaching unions will vote on a motion that accepts that its opposition to academies is looking a bit shopworn (page 14). It doesn't like them any more than it used to. But it is willing to concede that like Japanese knotweed, academies are here to stay and pretending otherwise might be a bit daft.

As yet the other unions seem disinclined to follow its lead. The NASUWT in particular remains implacably opposed. But then one suspects its executives regret decimalisation, much preferred television when we had the two channels and only holiday in caravans and never abroad. Erich Honecker was more receptive to change. Nevertheless, the ATL motion is a milestone. It is an admission that the battle over academies is lost and that for all the harrumphing it is drawing ineluctably to a close.

This is not because academy advocates have completely won the argument. Genuine concerns remain over community links, admissions and future liabilities. The unions were also right to question some of the spin put on the overall performance of academies, though utterly ungenerous to ignore the stellar achievements of many and the progressive motivation of all. And bleating over the loss of "democratic accountability" was always over-egged. Arguably, there is nothing more democratic than a group of citizens banding together to set up their own schools, and would the unions fight to preserve grammar counties' "democratic right" to select?

The crux of the fight, however, has always been about cash and contracts: the potential, if largely unused, right of academies to opt out of national agreements. None of the unions is about to throw in the towel over that. But the ATL motion is an implicit acknowledgment that the battle is really about power not principle and that it might best be tackled intelligently and locally rather than blindly and dogmatically.

Underpinning this assessment is not only the realisation that huge numbers of schools will soon be academies, but also the earth-shattering discovery that teachers aren't flocking to the barricades to oppose them. This could be because they are too demoralised to paint a placard, but more likely because they can't see what all the fuss is about. Most teachers do not look at an academy and find the devil's work; they see a school, remarkably similar to any other.

So the academy war is over. Some diehards will continue to wail and fume like those Confederate supporters who refuse to accept that the South lost. Everyone else can move on and debate the important stuff - like how to teach, what to teach and the quality of who is teaching. Not much to fight over there, then.


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