Interest vs support: an academic distinction?

Michael Gove has been trumpeting the success of his push to convert more schools to academy status (i.e. bringing them under the direct control of central government rather than local education authorities), with headlines last week announcing that two-thirds of top schools want to be academies.

This refers to the fact that 70% of secondary schools rated as “outstanding” have expressed interest in becoming an academy. Conclusive evidence, surely, of the popularity of the measure: the image is created of hundreds of high-quality schools eager to throw off the dead hand of LEA control and fly free. But is this the reality?

Here’s one example that suggests otherwise. Gove’s push allows primary schools to apply to become academies for the first time, and our two older boys’ primary school, rated as “outstanding” in its most recent Ofsted report, would seem a natural candidate.

My wife, E, told me yesterday that the headteacher, Mrs M, has confirmed that the school is considering academy status. However, Mrs M observed that there are “pros and cons” to academy status, and “so far the disadvantages outweigh the advantages”. This is unsurprising: our impression is that the school has an excellent relationship with the LEA.

But here’s the thing: the only way that the school could obtain the information needed to weigh up these pros and cons is to “express an interest” in becoming an academy. Having done so, it is duly counted by Gove’s Department of Education as an “expression of interest” and spun as another “top school wanting to be an academy” – despite the early indications being that it has no intention of proceeding further.

I imagine the same is true of many, if not most, of the other “top schools” who have expressed an interest. What Gove is doing is fairly clear: spinning expressions of interest into expressions of support, thus helping give the appearance of momentum – of what Marxists might call “historical inevitability” – to his centralising policies.

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