The latest campaign by the 38 Degrees website has generated a score of emails to me from constituents opposing the Government’s plan to turn all schools into academies, and demanding to know where I stand on the issue.
Such automatically generated emails receive a polite, but equally automated response. They are told that the contents will be noted but that individual replies will not be sent. As a government minister, clearly I must either support the Government’s proposal, or resign. It is not an area of policy that I have responsibility for, or which I have been involved in.
All my gut instincts however, tell me that it is the right way forward. I am not entirely without experience, having been a teacher for 7 years and, quite separately, a school governor for another five. The essential difference between an academy and a ‘standard’ local authority school, is simply that an academy enjoys vastly more autonomy over virtually everything that takes place in the school, including setting staff terms and conditions (little wonder then that the giant unions, accustomed to national pay bargaining, are viscerally opposed to them).
Academy status brings new responsibilities and powers, but it is not a panacea, a silver bullet, to address all the problems faced in education. The schools still require strong leadership from inspirational and dedicated headmasters and headmistresses. I believe however, that the powers conferred by academy status make it easier to recruit and retain such talented people.
Given the excellent record of success enjoyed by the academies in this part of the New Forest (including Burgate, Ringwood School, Arnewood, and Priestlands) I don’t believe we have any reason to be nervous.