Each month sees a fall in the number of schools under the control of local authorities. In June another 95 applications to become academies were approved. These are “converter” academies. The figure doesn’t include the “sponsored academies” – the hostile takeover bids for failing schools.
What Alastair Campbell disparagingly called “bog standard” comprehensives are, rather paradoxically becoming the exception rather than the rule. 70 per cent of state funded secondary schools are academies or free schools; 30 per cent are local authority maintained. Schools are using their independence to innovate and specialise. Among primary schools the councils still dominate but that is also changing.
We have church schools, studio schools, and University Technical Colleges. Incidentally these are just the changes within the state sector. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of children being home educated. The number of independent schools has also risen – and “at 518,432, pupil numbers in 2016 are the highest since records began in 1974.”
The Rev Jesse Jackson declared, in his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1984:
“America is not like a blanket – one piece of unbroken cloth, the same colour, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt –many patches, many pieces, many colours, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. “
Increasingly this is true of schools in England. A huge change has taken place which has been largely unremarked upon. Freedom is messy and there have been muddled and false starts. But overwhelmingly, variety, choice, and competition has meant that standards have been driven up.
Among the changes when a school escapes municipal clutches is that a council can no longer impose a quota of governors.
In some ways this might be greeted with councillors as a relief. One less thing for us to bother about. Many councillors are themselves governors. Indeed often a councillor is a governor for more than one school. Even so this does not fill the quota and thus “Cabinet Members for Children’s Services” on “upper tier” authorities search around for Party members willing to serve. The opposition also have a quota so the Shadow councillor is also involved in talent spotting,
This requirement is being scaled down.
Despite that change, I still regard it as an important part of my role to encourage capable people to volunteer for this task. Often their politics will not be central to the task – although given the Marxist leadership of the National Unions of Teachers it is important to have robust voices in challenging indoctrination and the arid mindset of political correctness. I have persuaded retired businessmen and retired lawyers who have been willing to become school governors and who found their professional skills are very much put to use.
So I hope that councillors will continue to seek out talent for this role. The schools in the areas we represent still wish to have thriving connections with the wider community. Those residents we represent who have something to contribute should still be given a nudge.
The only real difference, which is all the difference in the world, is that the state has become the servant not the master. Governors can not be imposed. They can offer their services and be accepted if they are wanted.