The Coalition Government has already done a lot that traditional Liberals like me would welcome, and not just from the Liberal Democrat side of the Coalition. Theresa May's cancellation of the ID card scheme and Ken Clarke's utterances about the effectiveness of short prison sentences compared to community sentencing demonstrate that this will be a genuine Liberal Government in terms of extending and defending our liberties.
Michael Gove's rush to introduce a new cohort of Academies, converting existing community and voluntary aided schools by September, is foolish, unnecessary, and undemocratic. I attended a meeting of the Education Law Association on 14th June shortly after the Academies Bill was published and I have to say that the Education lawyers were shocked by the minimalist detail contained in the bill, and were privately rubbing their hands with glee at the possibility of making money out of judicial review proceedings to question the first few school applications.
The Bill lacked sufficient detail on the transfer of staff to the school's governing body when a community school converted, no detail about the level of financing that was guaranteed as a minimum funding level for the new institution, and no requirement for the school's governing body to consult either staff, parents or pupils before making their applications. All that was required was a single resolution of the governing body to say yes.
Under existing school government regulations there are requirements for governing bodies to consult parents and staff on forming a Soft or Hard Federation from existing schools, including the publication of the proposed size and make up of the new governing body.
There are no such requirements to consult in the Academies Bill. It would appear Gove does not understand that schools are learning communities in which all voices should be heard and indeed that the best schools are those that have open and interactive forms of communication between all those who make up the school.
Pushing through a status change with so little information immediately available (or now being made up "on the hoof") does not bode well. And pushing it through half way through the financial year is fraught with difficulties for both schools and and their local education authorities. They need to extricate their accrued spending, their bank accounts, and future funding arrangements straight after a summer break. Well that will mean chaos, and quite a few school staff will no doubt not get paid properly and in time for the first month under the new regime. That will be good for morale!
It is not surprising that only a tiny number of schools have broken cover in either Brent or Camden to even register any interest in becoming Academies. I don't blame them. Until we see the detail no school headteacher or governor should respond to Gove's kind invitation to join his silly revolution.
I am afraid both New Labour and now the new Conservatives have become obsessed with structures, believing that by changing these you drive up standards. No, it is the quality of school leadership, the quality of the teaching in the classroom, and the adequacy of the facilities available that have the biggest impact on learning outcomes. Who funds the schools and by what formula, who holds the cheque book for schools' spending, and who oversees the quality of the service provided, are all secondary to the what happens in the classroom.
Leave the existing structures alone and provide a loosened grip on the curriculum from the centre, and cut the number of mind-boggling initiatives and circulars from the DFE, and heads and their staff might just come up with the goods.
The Liberal Democrat contribution to the Coalition Government's education policy is to insist on the pupil premium to give extra to schools providing for disadvantaged pupils. That in itself will do more good in Brent and Camden than any structural change offered by the Academies Bill.