Thursday, 27 May 2010

A missed opportunity to link freedom and fairness

Greater independence for schools, a pupil premium and more free schools are good ideas in principle. But the coalition has made a fundamental error in its decision not to place a requirement on the new outstanding academies to work with other schools, or support wider improvements through teacher training or subject leadership, something that it a requirement of the specialist schools programme at the moment, particularly for high performers. Michael Gove has said that he hopes that this will happen - and that it will be required in business plans for other schools becoming academies - but it will not be a condition for the very best schools.

Ministers seem to be confusing bureaucracy and leverage. There has certainly been too much of the former, but there is an optimal amount of the latter that you give away at your peril. The Conservatives were critical of Labour for lifting GPs' salaries while reducing requirements for out-of-hours cover. Yet, here the coalition is handing over one of the strongest levers they have without any expectation that the new academies work to help improve the wider system.

Many outstanding school leaders already do an excellent job through programmes like the National Leaders of Education or High Performing Specialist Schools. But there should be an expectation in their funding agreement and trust charter that any outstanding academy actively works to help improve other schools. Unless admissions policies change radically, this cannot happen simply through the pupil premium. So it requires the best to work with other schools. And given that Michael Gove has said that one of his key aims is to narrow the gap between rich and poor pupils, it is a pity that he has missed a golden opportunity to link such greater fairness explicitly to greater freedoms.


Ben said...

It's not about saving failing schools, it's about saving pupils from failing schools.

Successful schools should expand, so parents will be able to abandon failing schools which will then close.

As a model, that's a heck of a lot more likely to improve quality than a system that harnesses a failing school to every successful one like a millstone.

Conor Ryan said...

Ben, I agree - successful schools should expand. The sort of links I'm talking about do precisely that - and are increasingly common in the real world of education in England today - through executive headship, trusts or federations. The fact is that many outstanding schools don't want to or haven't got the space simply to expand their existing premises to meet all applications. This sort of link is a proven way of improving schools in ways that don't fail the kids already in weak ones.