School shake-up moves full circle

MICHAEL Gove's plans to allow successful schools to become academies offers conclusive evidence that education thinking has moved fullcircle in just over two decades.

It was the Education Secretary's political heroine, Margaret Thatcher, who paved the way in the late 1980s for schools to "opt out" of local authority control and become self-governing trusts that were free from LEA and Whitehall interference.

And it is this approach – dismantled by New Labour – that Mr Gove

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intends to reintroduce, with plans to fast-track applications from those schools rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted inspectors.

Of course, it is likely to find favour with those that have a proven record of success. Too many of New Labour's policies, and the accompanying bureaucracy, compromised the pursuit of academic

excellence, a point that Mr Gove has recognised.

However, the Education Secretary's enthusiasm needs to be tempered

by the need to keep a number of safeguards in place.

First, some element of "testing" will have to remain in place to identify those youngsters, at primary school level, who need extra assistance and to assess whether the new Government's "pupil premium" – an innovative scheme which targets money at disadvantaged children – is an effective use of resources.

Second, the new wave of academy schools are still going to have to

abide by clear rules on admission procedures and catchment areas.

They will have to work in conjunction with the relevant LEA on this to ensure that a two-tier system is not introduced inadvertently.

Third, each academy should still be expected to teach to agreed criteria in the core subjects – and only branch out in those areas where teachers have a particular interest or expertise.

In short, the Education Secretary needs to create a schools structure that is built to last – and which will not be taken apart by any future government. This fundamental long-term objective is more important than any quick fix on Mr Gove's part. For, after 20 years of constant upheaval, the last thing that schools, teachers and pupils desire is more change for change's sake.