Nice try, Nicky. Despite official efforts to bury the bad news of the government’s major volte face on forced academisation under rolling election coverage, Morgan’s climbdown late last week has been widely publicised and celebrated by what had turned into a formidable array of opponents stretching right across the political spectrum.
In the end, Morgan dared not defy a handful of powerful Tory backbenchers or shire leaders – according to one, the government had simply ‘gone bonkers’ – implacably opposed to having their local power over education destroyed.
But there was a different sort of retreat, just as significant in its way, also at the end of the week. Free school founder Toby Young, now stepping down as CEO of the West London Free School he set up in 2011, has expressed regrets at his ‘arrogance’ on school reform in a Schools Week interview, in particular his criticism of other teachers, heads and local authorities. ‘I hadn’t grasped how difficult it is to do better.’
It appears that Young (who now claims that his remarks were taken out of context) has finally caught up with some of the more complex social and political reasons why so many local schools can’t keep pace with the rich, socially selective independent sector that he so admires.
For anyone who has crossed Young over the years, this was a bitter sweet moment ( my phone was buzzing all afternoon). Let’s not forget the huge part he played in undermining public and parental confidence in state education, particularly non-selective schools, during the early years of the Coalition which led some commentators seriously to suggest that critics of free schools were ‘actively evil.’
It all feels like another age now. Both Morgan and Young’s retreats signal one more important staging post in the fast diminishing credibility of the school reforms unleashed by the Tories after 2010. If Gove brought an intellectual energy and spurious coherence to a fundamentally flawed project, Morgan embodies the rabbit-caught-in-headlights nervousness of someone placed in charge of a convoy of rackety vehicles that now threatens to veer out of control.
Huge change has been forced through our system at all levels on scant evidence and even less meaningful consultation. There is no substantive proof that academisation is the answer to improved school performance and I don’t know anyone who still argues that free schools remain a vehicle for meaningful parental involvement.Young himself, an exceptionally well -networked figure in Tory circles, was always an outlier. …