Drawing on the experience of the Swedish school reforms and the charter school movement in the United States, we will break down barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new Academy school.
Where parents are dissatisfied with the choice of secondary schools in an area, local authorities will be required to act, securing take-overs of poor schools, the expansion of good schools, or in some cases, entirely new provision. Where parents at an individual school want change, they will be able to trigger a ballot on whether to bring in a new leadership team from a proven and trusted accredited provider.
These are both attempts to give parents who aren’t happy with their local secondary schools the power to do something about it, rather than just hoping that the government or council will take notice and get something done. The Tory policy has been around for a while; the Labour proposal, as far as I know, is new.
Three things have always troubled me about the Tory plan (even if we assume that parents in areas with poor schools will be up to the task of organising a new one). First, creating a new school from scratch to compete with one that already exists is going to cost a lot: the initial costs will be huge and then the resulting overcapacity will need to be funded unless and until the old school closes down.
Second, it takes time to establish a new school, and while this is happening, the failing school is not just going to be left alone to fester. If the latter can be improved in time, the efforts that have gone into setting up the new one will have been needless.
Third, if the new school does turn out to be much better than the old, then the process of shifting kids out of one and into the other will be slow and sporadic – disruptive in the short-term for the children whose parents switch them and demoralising for those that remain where they are in an increasingly unpopular sink school.
The Labour plan, while still letting local parents set the ball rolling, avoids these flaws. Replacing the leadership of a school, or making it part of a federation, can be done less expensively and more quickly than creating a new, rival school, and the benefits will be felt by all the children of the once-failing school without their parents having to decide when and whether to jump ship.
And so it’s a better plan. It may not be a sneaky way of undermining LEAs (which the Tories have long been in the business of), but it’s a better, faster, cheaper, more efficient way of overhauling the local choice of schools when parents think this is urgently needed.