11/08/2015 13:20 BST | Updated 11/08/2016 06:59 BST

The Tories Are Rigidly Sticking to Their Belief That Mass Academisation Will Solve the Nation's Educational Ills


To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

The first 100 days of this government would be better dubbed "continuity Cameron" when it comes to schools policy. Very few big education ideas surfaced on either side of the political divide in the General Election.

And in power the Tories are sticking rigidly to their belief that mass academisation and a narrow exam driven academic curriculum will solve all the nation's educational ills.

The trouble is that this policy mix won't work- there is now an overwhelming body of evidence to prove that converting a school to an academy - an independent state school contracted directly to the secretary of state - is not a golden bullet when it comes to improving achievement or narrowing gaps between different groups of pupils.

Academies perform no better than similar maintained schools (which still come under the auspices of the local authority). Indeed many academies, in particular those in large chains of schools, do worse.

And everyone from the head teacher organisations, to the teacher unions and the CBI have questioned whether an exam treadmill, and a curriculum which marginalises creative, technical and vocational subjects, will produce the well rounded productive citizens we want for the 21st century.

The Tories are stuck in a time warp, still believing that the 1950s were a golden age of education (it is no surprise that the expansion of grammar schools is also on the agenda) and wedded to the idea that simply creating new types of schools will simultaneously satisfy parents and raise standards.

Meanwhile the really pressing problems facing schools in the next five to ten years seem go unaddressed. How do we ensure there is good local oversight so that no schools "fall through the net" in the face of rapidly diminishing local authority capacity?

How will schools manage the almost unprecedented funding cuts that will start to bite in the next 18 months? And what can be done about the chronic teacher recruitment crisis that is brewing?

The Tories went into the election promising to protect per pupil funding in cash terms, but that pledge only covered the 5-16 age group and excluded post 16 education and the early years.

This, combined with huge hikes in pension payment and national insurance contributions, means schools are likely to face cuts between 10 and 12 % over the next five years, according to the IFS.

This will almost certainly put at risk extra curricular education, teaching in some subjects and specialist interventions to help more disadvantaged pupils, which will in turn make it harder for schools to meet the ever more exacting goals set by ministers.

Meanwhile applications to teacher training are down 16% since 2010 and almost a million more children are predicted to be in the schools system in ten years time. This will require not only capital investment to create enough school places where they are needed but also enough teachers to teach those extra pupils.

As the country comes out of recession teaching is becoming a less attractive graduate career, which may be partly fuelled by the negative rhetoric about the profession that emanates from ministers and the lack of trust generated by more stringent accountability measures.

The government would be wise to remember that most parents want good local schools, with good teaching, behavior and leadership, a safe well functioning environment and a curriculum in which every child can flourish and realize his or her talents.

There is an important role for government in setting a broad vision for what children should learn, ensuring basic standards, adequate funding, capital investment and teacher supply.

But there is also an equally important need for heads and teachers to be trusted, respected and given the tools to do the job we ask of them without feeling that central government is breathing down their necks and trying to decide what is right for all their pupils.

We have never really got that delicate balance of power right in the English school system and if the first 100 days of Dave are anything to go by it will be a long time until we do.

How do you think Britain has changed since 7 May? Join the @HuffPostUK conversation on Twitter with #100DaysOfDave