Government School Oversight Failed in Birmingham

The English school system is fractured right down the middle, with county schools on one side and government academies on the other. While county councils try to develop relationships with the whole family of local schools and get to know the staff in them and their particular issues, the Department for Education has thousands of schools and a strategic view that means they will only get involved when there is already a known issue. Hands on versus hands off: it is, after-all, what the academy system was all about, freeing schools from the dead hand of council control.

But do schools work best when no-one is watching too closely?

Birmingham schools get their OFSTED reports today, with the politicians and press focussing on the extremism, but the real issue is the governance of Academy schools and the fact that OFSTED found itself hoodwinked by the schools themselves. Now, the fact that Head-teachers routinely game the system to the school’s advantage should not be news to anyone involved in the education sector, but it seems to have surprised Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.

Academies are accountable only to the Dept of Education, and they cannot possibly have a level of detailed oversight that would let them pick up on local issues such as we have seen: not a problem of extremist plots (no evidence has been found of that) but of the willingness of one strand of Islamic thought to impose itself on everyone within a community school.

What is the Solution?

So what is the way to prevent repeats of the whole debacle? What is really needed is a review of the way that Academies produce a fragmented education system leaving isolated and unsupported schools operating without supervision, the reinstatement of the recently scrapped Local Education Authorities, and the return of Academies and Free Schools to local control.

Gove and his predecessors have had their fun — now it is time for us to take back the political football from the Department.

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