I have been reading Education, Education, Education, the fascinating account by Andrew Adonis of his efforts to achieve reform as a Downing Street advisor, and then Schools Minister, under the Labour Government. He was on a mission to promote parental choice, school independence, and drive up standards – yes, under a Labour Government.
While the achievements were modest in terms of the number of academies created (203 compared with the total of 2,106 now), it was a start that has enabled Michael Gove to make dramatic progess. Given the level of opposition Lord Adonis faced from his own comrades, it was heroic that he achieved anything at all.
The Labour Government abolished Grant Maintained status for schools, replacing them with an emasculated version. However, another variety of independent state schools survived – the 15 City Technology Colleges set up by Lord Baker when he was Education Secretary.
Baker begat Adonis begat Gove.
Lord Adonis explains:
As a result of their rarity and low profile, there was little pressure on Labour, before or after the 1997 election, to include the CTCs in the abolition of grant-maintained schools. The CTCs were simply ignored and left alone.
These CTCs were quietly investigated by Lord Adonis who was impressed by their excellent results and they became the model for the new academies starting up.
Peter Vardy's Emmanuel College, a very high-achieving City Technology College in Gateshead, was among those visted by Lord Adonis:
"Peter wanted to set up academies in Newcastle and Gateshead. Neither council would agree. Middlesbrough was more receptive, followed farther afield by Doncaster, both of which volunteered chronically failing schools to be replaced by academies. King’s Academy in Middlesbrough and Trinity Academy in Doncaster are now among the most successful state schools in the country. Peter’s evangelical Christian associations were soon seized on by academy opponents. Yet his academies’ admissions are entirely non-religious, their teaching and curriculum rated excellent by Ofsted, and parents are queuing up.
The local Labour MP for Gateshead "refused to even visit" Emmanuel College such was the extent of the hostility.
The opposition did not just come from politicians but also union officials. He says:
Very few failing comprehensives went grant-maintained, for these were the schools with the weakest leadership and most in the grip of their local councils and militant branches of the NUT. NUT’s full-time local officials, many of them paid by local authorities, were vociferous campaigners against grant-maintained schools, and later against many academies too.
The bullying and dishonest campaiging by the teachers' unions against academies and free schools is another reason why the scandal of "pilgrims" – those paid for by the taxpayer but spending their time working for unions – must end. Of course free schools and academies will tend to regard "trade union facility time" as rather less pressing than other claims on their budgets. Council education departments are much more of a soft touch. So union officials have a vested interest in keeping schools within the local authority empire.
The Taxpayers Alliance have produced a report suggesting that the existing law is not being followed – even before the new guidance from the Government is introduced. Current industrial relations law is not being applied.
This is something that Consevative councils should deal with without waiting for further prompting