The Department of Education recently provided an update on schools applying to be academies. As of July 1st, 60 per cent of secondary schools were academies; six per cent were free schools; and 34 per cent were Local Authority maintained.
Primary schools are further behind. Eighty-one per cent are still defined as council maintained – although this includes many church schools where the municipal grip is rather looser.
What is also striking is the continuing enthusiasm for more and more schools to gain their independence. There are 1,176 schools in the pipeline to become academies. In June alone another 83 schools applied to convert. So the revolution continues.
Schools in the academy pipeline include 282 sponsored academies – those are failing schools being taken over with new management. Usually that will mean a new head, a new governing body, and a new name. Most importantly it should mean an ambition to achieve much higher standards of academic rigour rather than putting energy into finding excuses.
The total number of open academies, free schools, studio schools, and University Technology Colleges in England is 5,774.
When people talk about “bringing back” Grammar Schools they seem to forget the dramatic decline in councils actually running secondary schools. It is hard to envisage anything as rigid as the old system. That does leave scope for easing the admissions code to allow some selection – at least under particular circumstances. By the way, that might not only be a matter of selection by ability, but also faith, and thus provide schools with protection from vexatious complaints to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator from the British Humanist Association.
Of course the new Prime Minister may well wish to give education reform fresh impetus. In 2103 when she spoke to the Conservative Home conference she said:
“Yes, the state should make sure that public services are available to all and free at the point of use. Yes, the state should regulate those services to make sure they’re provided everywhere and offer high standards. But too often the state is a poor provider of services, and its monopoly over the delivery of those services must end. A future Conservative government should therefore go further in increasing the number of charities, companies and co-operatives that deliver frontline services. And if allowing those organisations to make a profit means we have a more diverse supply side and better outcomes, then that is something we should consider with an open mind.”
If a company can make a profit by opening a free school that can offer high standards and thus compete successfully against existing schools this would obviously be welcome. It could only make money by convincing parents that it would educate their children better than other schools.
So by all means let us have further radicalism to boost parental choice and allow more innovation and independence. But let us also reflect for a moment on the remarkable transformation that is already under way.