Today, Stephen Twigg made a major policy announcement at the RSA. It has some elements that teachers and parents might welcome although there are still many aspects that I find problematic.
Let me start by taking his 3 big ideas.
Freedom – all schools are to be given the same freedoms that are enjoyed by both academies and free schools, in particular freedom over the curriculum, structure of the school day and length of the day. These freedoms will also include the power to determine teacher’s pay but it unclear whether other conditions of employment are included. The devil will be in the detail. While I agree that freedom from State interference is to be welcome, many of the freedoms over the curriculum are illusory. As long as schools continue to be measured against the basket of subjects that make up the 5 A-C’s at GCSE, schools have little room for manouvre. I also find it puzzling that Twigg wants to give all schools the freedoms enjoyed by academies but still wants to retain them as part of the system. This makes no sense, if all schools are to have the same freedoms as academies, why have academies at all. Neither of the two high achieving countries he mentions (Finland and Singapore) have a school economy as mixed as ours. In Finland all schools are state comprehensives, there are no private schools, grammars, academies, University technology colleges,or free schools. This continued diversity works against Twiggs’s next idea;
Collaboration – This is, as Sahlberg has pointed out, one of the strengths of the Finnish system and to give him his due, Twigg does highlight the impact of the London Challenge. Collaboration is hard to achieve in a marketised educations system though, after all why would a school collaborate with a competitor? Twigg also shies away from putting in place one of the essentials needed to encourage collaboration, he states that he will change the Schools Admission Code to allow schools to prioritise disadvantaged children. Why is this not a requirement? However, on balance increased collaboration can only be a good thing but many of the barriers to it will remain.
Decentralisation – this is welcome as the Secretary of State currently has direct power over all academies and free schools. Academies and free schools are not accountable to their local communities, governors are frequently appointed rather than being elected and in the case of academy chains these appointments are often centralised with decisions being made at head office. Unless schools are directly accountable to their communities with elected governors, the goal of decentralisation will not be fully realised.
Twigg makes no criticism of academy chains despite evidence that they adopt a one size fits all model (in the case of Harris) or use an externally developed curriculum (in the case of Ark). As I pointed out earlier he has failed to make a convincing case for the continued existence of academies. Until England addresses the fundamental problems caused by a mixed market system the country will never succeed in addressing the issue of inequality, a key component of a high achieving education system.
There is however one positive commitment, there will be no more free schools. However, he said nothing on the subject of Initial Teacher Education and the quality of the teacher supply which is a cause of concern.
You can read the text of his speech here: