As a parent and resident of a ward staring down the barrel of a school places crisis, the budget proposals make disturbing reading. Tory plans to convert every state school into an academy are ill informed at best, and represent a creeping privatisation of our education system at worst.
Of course, the Prime Minister tried to sell the policy today as representing 'maximum devolution'. That is a myth. Academies operate as private bodies. They are not accountable to local authorities, rather the head teacher and a charitable trust (and sometimes a franchise or chain) are in charge. They set their own standards on admissions, can 'innovate' (read: opt out of the national curriculum) and are overseen by regional commissioners. Ofsted has recently criticised a number of academy chains for failing to meet standards for improvement and paying board members exorbitant salaries. Teachers and their unions see this for what it really is - it isn't about improving the quality of our children's education, it's privatisation of our education system.
So, in this brave new world the Chancellor is trying to create, undoing the link between local authorities and state education which has functioned (on the whole) very well since its inception in 1902, what happens to areas like Walsworth where many of our children have no preference for any secondary school? How, without the valuable support of our county councillors and the local education authority, do we ensure our children can not only attend school, but that that school is within a reasonable distance of their home. And that the quality of teaching is what our children need?
It's early days. There's a lot of detail the government still needs to produce about this policy. But on the face of it, it is utterly terrifying. This policy could well turn out being more expensive than the current system. And the real lack of any public accountability of these organisations means our children's futures are seriously at risk.
Oh, and finally, let's not forget the state has a duty to look after the wellbeing of children. Now, pray tell, how on earth can it do that if we as parents, governors and local authorities cannot have a say in their education and that fundamental foundation of their future?
Labour NHDC candidate for Walsworth