Teachers’ representatives have condemned plans to be included in the forthcoming education white paper to allow failing schools just 12 months to turn themselves around.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the education secretary’s proposal to reduce to a year the time schools had to get themselves out of special measures would drive up the number of schools forced to close.
“Local authorities and schools themselves will come under intense pressure to adopt quick-fix, cosmetic measures, rather than the steps necessary to tackle problems,” he warned. “Bringing down the guillotine after a year will drive committed staff from failing schools who otherwise would have stayed, thus making the problem worse.”
Professional Association of Teachers general secretary Jean Gemmell agreed that the one-year deadline could be counter-productive. “It is important that schools show rapid improvement, but the deep-seated problems affecting these schools can take longer than 12 months to fully rectify,” she said.
Ruth Kelly announced the new deadline for schools on special measures in a speech to the Local Government Association this week, adding that this was why academies were a key part of the government’s reform agenda.
Academies were controversially introduced in 2002 as a new type of school set up with financial backing from business, faith or voluntary groups to replace struggling schools or provide additional school places in deprived areas.
“They have a special role to play in transforming opportunities in our most deeply deprived areas,” Kelly said. “There will be not let up in the pace at which we roll out this programme.”
But Sinnott insisted academies were “a disastrous experiment” that allowed privatisation by the back door, and cautioned against a reduced deadline for improvement being used as a way of increasing the number of candidates for academy status.
Kelly said other reforms to be set out in the education white paper included local authorities becoming commissioners rather than providers of education services, potentially working with a variety of not-for-profit organisations including educational charities, faith organisations and parent groups.
Councils would also be expected to offer a comprehensive support service for parents to make them “genuine partners” in the education system. “It will mean backing parents where they want good schools to expand, rather than blocking this because it might make life tougher for other schools,” she explained.