Let us examine each part of her pronouncement and test both for accuracy and, then, for common sense – two prerequisites, surely, of any policy which has any chance of working…
Before I begin my analysis I want to state that it is crucially important pupils are educated in good schools that enable them to succeed. Schools that condemn pupils to poorer educational outcomes than their talents deserve must be held accountable and must improve, quickly (I will come back to this).
So, is there any evidence that Nicky Morgan’s answers to the problem of failing and coasting schools will work? The short answer is, no, there is not. Academisation is no magic cure – a fact recognised by the cross-party Education Select Committee whose recent report on academies and free schools concludes:
“Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change.”
And for primary schools:
“There is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. The DfE should commission such research as a matter of urgency.”
So, there is no robust evidence, overall, that academies nationally outperform other types of school. But there is another problem with mass conversion - academy chains vary greatly in their effectiveness. Chain Effects – a 2014 research report on the impact of academy chains on low-income students – found that:
“…some chains are doing particularly well; with attainment scores for disadvantaged pupils substantially above those of the general run of state schools. However, there are other chains which are performing less well than maintained schools on average, and are not doing enough to improve the prospects of their disadvantaged pupils.”
Which brings me to my next point – I sent this tweet out on Sunday:
“If Nicky Morgan is so confident that academy chains are the route to school improvement why is she stopping them being inspected as a chain?”
It is my most successful tweet – widely re-tweeted and favourited – because it asks the obvious question. If Nicky Morgan is so confident in the academy chain route to school improvement, surely she should want chains to be inspected (as local authorities are inspected) to determine the quality of the support, direction and resources given to their schools? The longer this does not happen, the more we have the right to ask – just what is she trying to hide?
And now I come to the common-sense test. I ask, where are these legions of school leaders willing to be drafted in to work with failing and coasting schools? The fact is that there is a looming crisis of recruitment and retention of school leaders whose jobs are coming to be as insecure as football managers.
Too many school leaders are deciding to leave the profession to preserve their health and their sanity. Many of those leading successful schools are pulling up the drawbridge – focused on their own establishment and the protection of their school as the policy tsunami of qualification reform hits their teachers and their pupils. Why would they risk career suicide taking over failing schools when they know that there is insufficient time, and resource, to turn those schools around?
Which brings me to my final point – to which I said I would return. All the policy evidence shows it is not school structures that transform educational outcomes; it is the quality of teaching in a school that is transformational. In-school variation of teaching quality is at least four times greater than between-school variation. If inadequate teaching within a school was brought up to be good, pupils’ educational achievements would be transformed very much for the better. But this is hard, intensive, painstaking work which must be supported by effective in-school training and development. It is not headline grabbing, and that is why we get nonsense spouted by Nicky Morgan this weekend. Expect more of it...