Commenting on the Education Secretary's speech to the CST and his vision for MAT growth, behaviour and discipline, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
This is a disappointing but not surprising set of proposals which encapsulate the Government’s distorted priorities and evidence-free approach to education policy.
Heads and teachers understand very well the importance of re-establishing the routines for good learning and behaviour. Teachers will wonder why the Secretary of State, instead of fixating on mobile phones or surveys, doesn't talk about what schools need to help students make positive choices and learning habits - things like smaller class sizes, more funding for pastoral support, and releasing time for teachers to work with small groups and assess learning gaps. Teachers will also expect much more joined up thinking about the links between poverty, stigma, well-being and young people’s behaviour.
The Education Secretary claims that the pandemic shows the benefits of collaboration and pooling of resources within MATs and that this should be the future of the school system. If anything, the pandemic response has shown us the vital role of local authorities, which have stepped up to co-ordinate partnerships and provide vital support to schools, not least around the provision of school meals.
The English school system does not need further fragmentation into competing MATs. Study upon study has shown that academy reforms have reduced equality and equity in our school system while undermining accountability to parents and children.
The Government’s priorities are clearly in the wrong place, announcing that £24m will be handed over to academy trusts to help them expand just weeks after cuts to pupil premium funding were revealed.
The fragmented academy system has serious structural problems and contradictions which are entirely the fault of this Government. This is in some ways an attempt to paper over those cracks – with the idea that “strong” MATs will somehow provide the answers. We have heard this before, and some MATs, such as Wakefield City Academy Trust, which were previously lauded by ministers no longer exist, having collapsed and left schools and local authorities to pick up the pieces. What has changed that will make this latest push to academise all schools by boosting a new group of favoured chains less risky and damaging?
The pandemic and the disruption it has brought to our education system is in fact far from over; now is not the time to begin forcing schools into irreversible changes based on dogma.
What we need is greater coherence and investment in the democratic structures and support that bind schools to one another and to their communities.