Turbocharged Education – Really?

I just love a good government press release. The latest from Nicky Morgan’s mates at the DfE talk of ‘turbocharged’ sponsored academies. It sounds like a promotional gimmick for Top Gear rather than a serious item about education. Just as ‘free’ schools are in no way free, the language here is being subverted for political means.

The release says:

Ahead of the National Primary School Offer Day new figures reveal that the education of 350,000 children has been transformed after their previously underperforming schools were turned into sponsored academies – where education experts and leading headteachers take over the running of the school.

Ofsted data for the latest inspection results of all schools shows that 350,000 children now study in sponsored academies rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the schools watchdog – previously these schools suffered from chronic underperformance, blighting the life chances of young people and preventing them from achieving their full potential.

Last year 95.9% of parents received an offer at one of their top 3 preferred primary schools after the government created more than 400,000 new primary school places since 2010. With National Primary School Offer Day on Monday, the news will reassure parents that the school places available for children are better than ever before (I’ve just removed poor punctuation from the release) and that the government is tackling underperforming schools faster and stronger than ever before.

The figures also reveal that record levels of children are now attending good or outstanding schools – a figure which has jumped by 1.4 million since 2010 and by 30,000 in the last four months alone.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

Due to the turbocharged sponsored academy programme hundreds of thousands of children are now getting a better education – a key driver in our mission to spread educational excellence everywhere.

Parents who find out on Monday which primary school their child will attend can be reassured that the government is doing more than any before to ensure all parents have the choice of a good local school.

There are now a record number of good or outstanding schools in England – a testament to the hard work of our excellent teachers and the impact of our reforms.

Our white paper reforms are the next step in achieving excellence everywhere by putting control in the hands of the teachers and school leaders who know their pupils best, alongside new measures to more swiftly tackle failing and coasting schools. We want to work constructively with the sector to deliver this and ensure standards continue to rise.

Improving underperforming schools is a key part of the government’s drive to spread educational excellence everywhere. When a school is found to be underperforming, a group of education experts with track records of success in other schools are brought in to turn the school around. The government is also backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed (ditto previous comment) so that every child has access to the education they deserve.

Due to the 2016 Education and Adoption Act, failing and coasting schools will face far swifter intervention, and the recent white paper makes clear that every school will be an academy by 2022 – allowing the best schools to spread their expertise more widely.

Now I’m a little gobsmacked. Recently, The Guardian posted this telling us that primary school place provision is close to breaking point. Is that what is meant by transformation of education?  This article from last year, admittedly from a left-wing publication, challenged the idea that sponsored academies and free schools are the key to success, denoting them instead rather as

This article from last year, admittedly from a left-wing publication, challenged the idea that sponsored academies and free schools are the key to success, denoting them instead rather as spawn of the devil. Basically, it’s the usual story. You can abuse statistics and put on them whatever spin you like!  Whichever way you view it, the waters are far more muddier than the DfE allows, as in this BBC report. Even Michael Wilshaw has warned about the variable quality of academy chains.

The big question remains? Why is that despite all government assurances to the contrary, education seems to be getting less and less satisfactory? Teachers are leaving in droves, primary schools are bursting at the seams, and ideological free schools are being set up where there are seriously surplus places. Budgets are slashed, and teachers are stressed. School transport is under pressure. The curriculum grows narrower. I’m so thrilled my child is getting such a fabulous education! Turbocharged even.

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