Tom Richmond: Imposing academies on schools makes a mockery of ‘people power’

David Cameron is being overwhelmed by claims of hypocrisy, not least on education policy.
David Cameron is being overwhelmed by claims of hypocrisy, not least on education policy.
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IF prizes were awarded in politics for double standards, the Government’s proposal for all secondary and primary schools to be converted into academies would win by a landslide.

This plan would compel each and every school to operate outside the remit of local authorities, even though this management model has seen some chains achieve results that compare unfavourably with the worst LEAs.

Despite this, and concerns that smaller rural schools might be forced to close if they cannot find a backer, the Government intends to press ahead – even though the growing opposition is being led by Tory councillors from Oxfordshire where David Cameron is MP.

This is rather ironic because it was the very same Mr Cameron who championed the virtues of localism in a bylined article in The Guardian in February 2009. “When one-size-fits-all solutions are dispensed from the centre, it’s not surprising they so often fail local communities,” wrote the Tory leader (or one of his aides).

A fair point. It did not end here. “When people experience a yawning gap between the changes they want to see and those they can directly affect, it is inevitable that demoralisation and democratic disengagement follow,” the critique continued.

Correct again – one reason why there is so much electoral apathy is the corrosive view that voting is a waste of time because governments do not listen to the people. And another promise was made. I quote: “There are plans to give people a much greater say over the issues that affect their daily lives; plans to give local councils much more responsibility and power...”

Talk about rank hypocrisy to rival the Prime Minister’s Easter holiday arrangements. This plan does not give more powers to councils. It strips them of the right to co-ordinate education policy, not least the allocation of school places. And it makes a mockery of his assertion that “we’ll get better outcomes” if there is “more local discretion”.

In fairness, this latter point is pertinent to devolution policy, but it is does not justify the attempt to make LEAs redundant because of a presumptive view that weak council leadership, rather than Government interference, is to blame for those schools which do under-perform.

Given that the issue of skills training is just as important as infrastructure investment, certainly in those areas intended to benefit from the Northern Powerhouse, the Government should think again.

Perhaps David Cameron should follow his own advice in 2009 and put his plans to the test by instigating separate referendums in each LEA area. If people back the proposal in one area, all schools should become academies. If not, the status quo remains.

If this decision-making process was good enough to reconcile electoral reform (2011), Scottish independence (2014) and the European Union (2016), the future of education is an equally valid referendum issue.

It’s called power to the people. After all, it was the self-same Mr Cameron who stated in his 2009 article: “If you’re unhappy about decisions made by your council there’s very little you can do about it outside election day.”

“UNLIKE some previous business secretaries, I’m not a career politician. I have spent most of my adult life in international business... I know how they work, I know what makes them tick, I know how they like to do deals.”

These words, written – believe it or not – by Business Secretary Sajid Javid (or a Press officer exaggerating for effect), are at odds with the Government’s ineffectual response to the steel crisis.

If Mr Javid is so versed in global business, and the ramifications of China continuing to distort the markets with the over-supply of steel, why was he in Australia when Tata bosses were meeting in Mumbai to decide the fate of the UK steel industry?

Why did he not act more decisively when Parliament’s Business Select Committee predicted the current crisis at least six months ago? And if he was so on top of the issue, as he maintains, why did he not inform Parliament of the looming threat prior to the Easter recess?

WHAT now for the contest to succeed David Cameron, which could come sooner rather than later if his family’s tax avoidance scandal grows and Britain votes to leave the EU on June 23?

Such a scenario would make Mr Cameron’s position untenable, even though he will play with semantics and claim that his manifesto commitment was only to deliver a referendum.

George Osborne, so long the favourite, is no longer a credible candidate following the furore over his proposed cuts to disability payments. After his cowardly post-Budget disappearing act, the pipsqueak’s near-silence on the steel crisis has been noteworthy.

Now the aforementioned Sajid Javid’s reputation is in freefall over the steel crisis. A potential Prime Minister? I’m notsure he could run a sweet shop.

It leaves Boris Johnson, a diplomatic disaster waiting to happen, or Home Secretary Theresa May who has annoyed many Tory activists – the people who will decide Mr Cameron’s successor – by staying loyal to the PM over the EU.

On this basis, the outgoing Mayor of London, a politician who could not give a flying fig about the North, could win by default. You have been warned.

AT last. More than 100 days after the Yorkshire floods, Defra Minister Rory Stewart will finally find time on Monday to meet a delegation, headed by Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, to discuss risks associated with the raging Wharfe, which rose to two metres – three times its normal height – in Otley. Why the long wait? Has the Government not learned anything?

I, FOR one, am pleased that the statue to railway pioneer Sir Nigel Gresley – long overdue just like so many trains – did not include a token duck in deference to his design of the iconic Mallard and Flying Scotsman steam locomotives. I’m afraid those flapping campaigners who cheapened Tuesday’s unveiling of the memorial at King’s Cross Station with plastic ducks obviously would prefer the UK to celebrate its eccentricity rather than those engineers who made this country great, and who are sorely needed to get Britain’s railways back on track.