The devolution of power has been one of the central themes of contemporary British politics, particularly as far as Scotland is concerned. Across the UK, regions understandably want more power – over where their taxes go, over the policies their political representatives pursue, over the way their services are structured and run. How can politicians over in Westminster, the argument goes, really know what’s best for people in Penzance or Powys, Preston or Perth?
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, seems to be taking these arguments for devolution a step further: why stop simply at regional devolution when we can devolve power down to the very base of society, our schools? This is the thinking behind the recent announcement that all schools will now become academies: rather than a process of ‘academicisation’, Morgan’s new White Paper frames this tremendous change as an educational ‘devo-max’, a reference to the transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood. It’s a ‘radical departure from the approaches of governments past’ she says, one that will grant schools a ‘supported autonomy’ with far less ‘micro-managing’ from Westminster. By 2020, all schools will be academies or in the process of becoming so. It’s no surprise that Morgan is describing the reforms as ‘radical’.
Indeed, it’s been a time of radical change for the education sector in general and understandably many voices of concern will be raised. Regardless of your opinion on academies, there can be no denying that the upheaval currently facing schools – most notably with the introduction of Progress 8 and the ensuing teacher shortage crisis – will complicate the process of academicisation, increasing uncertainty in an already deeply uncertain sector. The first cohort of students to have assessed entirely by Progress 8 measures won’t even be out of secondary education by the time the final Local Authority school becomes an academy – and we might even have a Labour government by then.
While Morgan maintains that this reform is different because it’s ‘handing down’ power to schools rather than centralising control over education in the hands of the state, it’s difficult to see how teacher and student alike will be empowered by these changes in the short run, but in the absence of any government U-Turn it looks like it’s a situation we’ll have to acclimatise ourselves to, while ensuring children still receive the highest quality of education possible. At SAM we’re committed to assisting teachers in this task: in simplifying the things that get in the way of focusing on the classroom – setting and marking homework, for example – while producing educational content of an award-winning standard.