Gove revolution would reach into every school

9th October 2009 at 01:00
But Tories must convince electorate they won't replicate errors of past eras

Be under no illusion: if the Tories get elected at the next election, education faces its biggest upheaval in a generation. The party's infatuation with academies has long been known, but the specifics announced by Michael Gove at this week's conference in Manchester - allowing all schools to bid for academy status if they wish, massively expanding the programme in primaries, removing the right of veto from local authorities, forcing schools that have been in special measures for longer than a year to convert to academies - are breathtakingly ambitious and will have an impact far beyond those schools immediately affected.

Mr Gove claims it will mean an end to a culture that tolerates failure - where have we heard that before? But it will certainly entail an end to a good many things. Kiss goodbye to any meaningful role for local authorities in education. If vast swathes of the secondary school sector opt for an independent life and increasing numbers of primaries join them, it is hard to see what function they will play except at the margins, especially if they are robbed of the funds they now top-slice from schools. Municipal fury may be expected from Haringey, but are the Tories ready for revolting burghers from Kent?

More importantly, how will Mr Gove ensure that his revolution does not result in the educational apartheid that blighted the local landscape in the final years of the direct grant era? If LAs are neutered, who will orchestrate collaboration among schools and police admissions to ensure that poor pupils are not marooned in learning cul-de-sacs? It would be tragic and pointless if all this sound and fury resulted in replicating the situation it was designed to replace.

Bid a fond farewell to the Social Partnership. Many in the union movement may feel that the disadvantages of this club have long exceeded the benefits, and it is difficult to see why most would want to be in partnership with a government that shares so little of their ideology. While the Tories may have banned champagne from Manchester, there is no indication they have yet learnt to love beer and sandwiches.

Say sayonara to national pay negotiations. Let's be frank: much of the opposition to academies has been dressed up as high-minded principle when in reality it is nothing more than low-down, self-serving calculation.

Most unions oppose them because they perceive - correctly - that schools that have the freedom to set their own pay and hours ultimately threaten their ability to negotiate nationally on behalf of most of the profession. The more independent academies there are, the less inclination the Government may feel to indulge in national pay agreements. In which case, we may bid adieu to another feature of recent times - relatively harmonious industrial relations.

Of course, if David Cameron cannot seal his deal with the electorate, none of the prospects outlined above will disturb the serenity of our staffrooms. There again, he may, in which case we will certainly live in interesting times.

Gerard Kelly, Editor, Email:


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