We have anew White Paper. It's called "Excellence "Everywhere". I would add a third E - for "Except". There is so much to unpick that it's difficult to know where to start. A quick run down a few policy ideas, then:
Strengthen ITT content - presumably away from those unfortunate truths about how children develop, and more of standardised blueprint on how to deliver a Hirschian knowledge-driven curriculum.
Replace QTS with a stronger, more challenging accreditation - raising the bar to allow the unqualified to limbo-dance more comfortably into all those academies and free schools.
Rebalance incentives in the accountability system, including Progress 8 - there are already indications that Progress 8 does no favours for lower-attaining pupils (see http://schoolsweek.co.uk/progress-8-ignores-success-of-lower-ability-pupils/ and TES 4 March 2016).
Establish a national database of governors and "bar unsuitable ones" - like parents, for instance.
Take new powers to direct schools to become academies. This is the biggie. There are already two petitions against this which are nudging the 150,000 signatory mark. The government scatter words like "freedom" and "autonomy" around like confetti, but it's all smoke and mirrors. Let's explore the "logic" If all schools are academeis, and academies don't have to follow the National Curriculum, then that surely spells the end for the good old NC. In its place we will have the national testing curriculum, whenever the DfE and OFQUAL can get their respective heads out of their fundament and sort out the appalling mess that is primary assessment and the insanity of simultaneously "reforming" GCSE and A Level. As the future of the school, as determined by the Secretary of State and the EFA, will rely heavily on outcomes, then the curriculum will inevitably skew towards reading, writing and maths in primary schools, and the EBacc in secondary. A "broad and blanaced curriculum"? Ah yes, I remember it well. So curricular autonomy then? Good luck with that if you want to teach basket-weaving and creationism.
There are also huge issues of accountability. When schools have been "freed" from the shackles of those awful local authorities who had the gall to do pinko Commie things like employ subject advisers to support teachers, they may well find themselves as part of a MAT - governed by unelected ( and therefore unaccountable) distant bureaucrats whose sole function is to stamp each school with the MAT "brand". Heads joining these MATs will inevitably surrender sovereignty. Freed from the dastardly local authority only to end up in chains.
And what of admissions? There are already examples of academies attempting to massage their intakes by refusing to admit special needs pupils (see http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/aug/20/academy-loses-challenge-special-needs). Leaving aside that this is a despicable way to behave, it does beg the question that if academies are quietly shedding SEN pupils, where are they going? Who picks up the pieces? Why, the hapless local authority, of course. What a dystopian, Orwellian future we contemplate, where academies are full of rosy-cheeked robots merrily absorbing the famed knowledge-driven curriculum while pupils with emotional, behavioural, medical and learning needs languish in some local authority "unit". How quaintly Dickensian. Those academies who boast of "zero tolerance" policies may be demonstrating zero tolerance of SEN pupils. It's worth checking.
Then there's finance. The DfE have spent something in the order of £8 million on making staff redundant from academies, at a time of teacher shortage. Academy heads are "free" to run dating agencies from their schools and pay management fees to consultancies they run while trousering salaries of up to £250k.
Governance? Forget it. The MAT trustees will have oversight of each individual school in the trust, so no need for governors at local level. Another blow to local democracy and another layer of temptation for CEOs of academy chains to reward themselves handsomely (and opaquely) while staff are being made redundant and public funds are directed away from classrooms. Hardly transparent and accountable, and could result in major influence resting in the hands of a few individuals, often friends or relations, and nominally supervised from Whitehall. So next time Ryan kicks off, get on the phone to the new national on call system, and Nicky Morgan will be there in a flash to remove Ryan from the classroom and supervise him in the exclusion room.
National Funding Formula - repeat after me "THERE IS NO NEW MONEY". For every Devon school that gets a better slice of the cake there will be a school in an Inner London borough that will lose out. That's why the announcement on the NFF has been delayed until after the London mayoral election. No, I'm not making it up. Until the Tories feel that London is a lost cause they won't risk alienating potential voters by giving them the bad news.
Regional Schools Commissioners - appointed by the DfE, once more not elected. Eight commissioners to oversee every school in England. Good luck with that too. And how does their role interface with OFSTED? Should it? Nobody seems to know.
I could go on, but I fear I could still be here next week. Do bear in mind that while the perfect storm of funding, recruitment and retention, assessment and academisation is starting to gather force prior to engulfing us in the next couple of years, our schools minister is pontificating about the correct use of exclamation marks.
This White Paper, like everything this government has done to the education system, is not the elephant in the room. Rather it's the octopus in the multi-storey car park - wrong on every level.