It’s not LAs who control schools but MATs
After a wait which exceeded the time limit for responding to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, the Department for Education (DfE) told me where to find the full text of a speech made by education secretary Damian Hinds to the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) in early October.
The DfE had published the speech after delivery but parts were missing. These were labelled ‘political content redacted’. I wanted to know what was so political that members of the public couldn't read it.
The full text was deposited in the House of Commons Library on 29 October 2018, I was told. This was despite the media having received the full text before it was made.
Redacted sections rubbished Labour's ideas for education
Much of the missing content was devoted to rubbishing ideas announced by his shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, at the Labour Conference 2018. Labour’s promised restoration of ‘local democratic control’ wasn’t giving power back to communities, Hinds said, but risked descending into ‘dangerous control freakery’. The academies programme had ‘been about trusting headteachers and school leaders to run schools, not local politicians’. Nothing to do with paving the way for groups like Serco to run schools, then?
There’s something rather blinkered about Hinds’s statement. The ‘dangerous control freakery’ has burgeoned since 2010: a detailed National Curriculum, power moving to the centre, money diverted towards pet projects, DfE ‘brokers’ using strong-arm tactics to force schools to become academies, the DfE spinning data to such an extent it earned a strong rebuke from the UK Statistics Watchdog…
Under academization, it’s not heads who run schools but academy trusts. The only academies who retain a measure of control are those in stand-alone trusts; academies in multi-academy trusts lose their legal identity. MAT trustees, not heads, make decisions. In some case, MATs impose a trust-wide curriculum and teaching methods. There’s not much scope there for heads to exercise freedom.
Politicians aren’t very good at running schools, Hinds admitted
Another redacted admission was that politicians aren’t ‘very good’ at running schools. But that’s what politicians have done since the Education Reform Act 1988 via Tony Zoffis* and Michael Gove’s dysfunctional DfE.
It’s refreshing, therefore, to hear an education secretary admit that politicians are poor at running schools. He told Labour to ‘leave our kids alone’. He should extend this message to the government.
The role of politicians is to fund schools adequately not impose unnecessary tests which have no educational value or pontificate on teaching methods and curriculum content (Nick Gibb, take note). Neither is it to offer bottles of champagne to any school where schools minister Lord Agnew can't sniff out wasted money.
The role of an education secretary is to support schools not to offer a false promise of ‘freedom’. Neither is it to encourage a charity, and CST is a charity, to promote governmental policies. Charities are forbidden from being partisan. Redacting parts of a speech to a charity on political grounds could raise doubts about a charity's independence.
*The nickname given to Tony Blair’s office by educationalist Ted Wragg.