Magazine article The Spectator

Old School Ties

Magazine article The Spectator

Old School Ties

Article excerpt

What Lord Adonis, who invented academies, thinks of education reform under Michael Gove

Last week, Michael Gove marked an important moment in the coalition government's school reforms. The number of academies - that is, state schools granted independent status - reached 407, twice the number created in almost a decade of Labour's academy programme. Since September, schools have become academies at the rate of one a day. But then the later stages of a reform are often easier than the first.

The man most responsible for the early stages of this reform was Andrew Adonis, a former journalist, policy adviser, Labour peer, minister and now director of the Institute of Government. His new job involves helping Whitehall improve the policy making process. And one of the more successful coalition policies is the academies agenda which he nurtured, first as an adviser to Tony Blair and then from 2005 to 2008 as education minister.

Academy status was seen at first as a remedy for failing schools. They would be made independent, put under new management and with the help of external sponsorship provide opportunity for students from some of the poorest and most deprived neighbourhoods of England. But local education authorities were still able to frustrate the development of academies, and maintain their overall control of state schools. Gove's Academies Act, passed last June, was intended to remove that veto.

I asked Lord Adonis whether, if he could have his time in office again, he would have pushed harder to do the same. 'Yes, ' he said.

'I would have done a lot of things differently if I had my time again.'

Ed Balls has declared Gove's plans for academies as 'a total perversion of Labour's policy, which was about turning round underperforming schools in disadvantaged areas'.

Adonis's response is rather different. 'Neither I nor Tony Blair believed that academies should be restricted to areas with failing schools. We wanted all schools to be eligible for academy status, and we were enthusiastic about the idea of entirely new schools being established on the academy model, as in Michael Gove's free schools policy.'

He says that, for Labour, it was a question of sequencing. 'The most urgent challenge facing English education is the replacement of failing and underperforming comprehensives. …

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