It is telling that my first thought upon waking this morning was the announcement yesterday by the Department for Education that they were not after all going to use the Reception Baseline assessment as the starting point to measure pupils’ progress through primary school.
For reasons I outlined in this blog last year it is no surprise that I welcomed the news along with all the teachers and school leaders I know. Yet on further thought I realise that this whole affair, although it has ended in a victory for common sense, brings the government’s idealogically-based decision to force all schools to become part of privately run Multi-Academy trusts into sharp focus and exposes the major flaw at its heart.
Let me clarify. The reason that the DfE gave in its announcement was that, following a review of the plan (at least they actually did a review) their study concluded that between the three PRIVATELY OWNED (this is important) assessment systems that were eventually sanctioned for schools to choose from, there was not felt to be enough consistency to create a level playing field.
The fact that all three assessment systems offered were privately run is crucial here, and a key insight into the conservative party’s ideology. Now I am not some trendy Tory-bashing leftie, (I even voted for our local Tory MP last time round) nor am I against business (I run one). However the system by which they were chosen was essentially “whichever of you wins enough schools to sign up for your system gets to stay.’
Initially there were several providers offering baseline assessment systems, and those who failed won the votes/custom of sufficient schools had to drop out. We are an education system dealing with children’s hopes and dreams, not a jungle, a talent show or the Big Brother house.
So we were down to three. Officially to ensure consistency. And now we have evidence that leaving it to the market simply doesn’t work. From the DfE’s announcement last night:
Inappropriate and unfair to schools. Not children, mind. Schools. Assessment is what we do all day as we listen to and interact with children, and not to be confused with tracking which is what this botched scenario was really about.
So what does this have to do with the forced academisation programme?
As far as I can tell (and I have tried to find out, honestly) there seems to be no evidence whatsoever that forcing schools to become part of Multi-academy-Trusts (MATs) will raise standards, or, crucially, improve the lives of children. And these MATs are run by, you guessed it, private profit-making organisations.
To clarify, I am not against academies, nor am I against MATs. There are good schools and bad schools and schools that are good at some things and bad at others – because they are staffed by humans, wonderful, creative, flawed humans, and we are great sometimes and less so at others. Being an academy changes none of that, so I do not have a problem with that. Schools which are run independently of the state are not guaranteed to be better (some are, some aren’t), but the problem is that with greater diversity comes greater inconsistency – as shown by having even just three tracking systems!
To say that Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum is good example of the current government’s muddled thinking. Since all children will be assessed on, wait for it, the National Curriculum, this is a ridiculous position to hold. Imagine being told by your driving instructor that “you don’t have to learn three-point turns, but they will be in the driving test”. Guess what?!
So I am hoping against hope, that having shown willingness to admit their mistake on the baseline front (for which, by the way, I think we should always give credit), then let us pray that the decision-makers at the DfE will learn from this mistake, listen to the overwhelming body of expert opinion, and not force schools into academies against their will.
In the end, we all want the same thing. The best possible outcomes for the children in our schools and communities. For some schools, that might be to go down the academy route. For others, it may not. But that is all about leadership – not profitability.