The plan to transform schools into academies is the most significant structural reform since the Labour government instigated the comprehensive revolution some 50 years ago. It was quite an astonishing announcement, coming as it did in the middle of a budget speech supposedly devoted to the pressing economic issues of the time.
There are just over 3,300 state schools in England. Of these, 2,000 are academies. Under the new proposals, all will be exempt from the National Curriculum and national pay regulations. Some of the inconsistencies of this latest announcement are obvious. Not very long ago, Michael Gove re-wrote the curriculum to emphasise the importance of Science, Maths, British History and Shakespeasre. In effect,this prescriptive diet, designed to improve standards and relevance, has now been thrown in the bin. Academies can teach what they like.
The abolition of a common curriculum across the country could impact on family mobility, particularly at secondary school level. What will be taught in Newcastle may not bear much resemblance to what is taught in London, Scotland or Wales – as was the case before the National curriculum was introduced. Uniformity of provision is likely to be eroded.
Pay differentials are also a potential problem, with good teachers moving from poor areas and difficult pupil populations to higher paid jobs elsewhere. Such a trend would further reduce social mobility and job opportunities in economically blighted areas. Then there is also the problem of accountability. Academies are funded by central government and are accountable to their governing bodies and a distant Secretary of State.
Of course, I can be accused of simply being a cynic. The new, enforced structure might inspire teachers to develop new and relevant subjects and to adopt new teaching strategies. The trouble is that the reforms introduced over the last 5 years have produced few inspired teachers.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.