Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

As someone who believes in limited government, I feel conflicted about universal academisation. I'm a fan of the academies policy because it reduces the involvement of politicians and bureaucrats in taxpayer-funded education, but there's something a little Stalinist about the state forcing all local-authority schools to become academies. It's using socialist methods to bring about a conservative goal. It reminds me of that paradox first-year philosophy students struggle with -- is it right to force a slave to be free?

Jeremy Corbyn and the teaching unions have decided that this is a good issue for them and are planning a national campaign against 'forced academisation'. But the emphasis on the word 'forced' is curious because that's the bit of the policy you'd think they'd like. Last week, as I did a tour of TV and radio studios to defend academies, I found myself facing left-wing opponents who were complaining about central government diktat and one-size-fits-all schools. Suddenly, diversity of provision and parental choice had become good things. Hang on, I thought. That's exactly what I was arguing in 2009. It was as though I had switched places with the anti-education reform campaigner Fiona Millar.

A moment's reflection reveals that this can't be what the left really objects to -- after all, Labour's education policy, insofar as it has one, is to restore local-authority control over all taxpayer-funded schools. Given that nearly 70 per cent of state secondaries in England and 15 per cent of primaries are already academies, that would involve almost as much coercion as the measure it opposes. Critics of academies have demanded a uniform system of state provision for decades, so it's a bit rich for them to complain about the universality of the policy. They're just annoyed that the monocultural system we end up with won't be Finland.

But if the left is only pretending to dislike academies for that reason, why does it really dislike them? It's a bit perplexing, because nearly all the other reasons they put forward are based on misunderstandings.

Corbyn used the phrase 'asset stripping' in his speech to the NUT last week, but that's flat-out wrong. When a school becomes an academy, the land and buildings aren't transferred from a local authority to a private company. …

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