Monday, 10 November 2008

Will the Government continue to champion school diversity?

Since Andrew Adonis was moved from his job as schools minister to a well-deserved promotion at transport, there has been much concern among academy sponsors and leaders about the future direction of government policy. So, there will have been relief among many at some of the comments made by the schools minister of state Jim Knight, who has now got a greater responsibility for the policy than before, in this week's TES.
"Since I started visiting (academies) and seeing how they worked for children from communities where successive generations have been let down by schools, I am an enthusiastic proponent of them and advocate for them."

But a worrying sign that all is not as it should be is contained elsewhere in the paper, with suggestions that the Office of the Schools Commissioner could be scrapped following the departure of Sir Bruce Liddington. We are told ominously that "the functions that he has been able to perform with his team are hugely important and we are clear that we need these functions to continue."

The last time I heard such a formulation was when the government scrapped the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, the tight-knit group established in the department to champion improvements in literacy and numeracy. The abolition led to less rigour in the 3Rs, only corrected by Jim Rose's phonics review and tough action by Adonis as schools minister two years later.

So, as I hear the same formulation again, I fear that the government is planning to scrap the post of schools commissioner and his team. To be fair, there are some interesting signs on diversity in the opposite direction from the Department and the secretary of state, Ed Balls. Yet the Commissioner is the champion of diversity, including academies and trust schools, within the Department and the result can only be a dimunition in diversity, regardless of the stated commitment of ministers and officials to the policy.

I do hope ministers think long and hard before agreeing to something they will come to regret.

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