To identify the origins of the policy of academisation, one must go back well before the Blair and Adonis years to 1987 and an interview Margaret Thatcher gave to Woman’s Own magazine. Despite recently winning her third election she was, at that time, frustrated. Part of her annoyance may have been a result of the Hurricaine that hit the South of England on 15th October and the stock market crash on Black Monday 4 days later but her ire was with neither Mother Nature nor the markets. She seemed frustrated by the inertia caused by people living in communities with culture, custom and practice slowly evolving over time and so she famously pronounced “you know, there is no such thing as society”.
Since that moment, politicians have worked to the idea that we should make decisions as consumers and that barriers to the operation of free markets (society, culture, the BBC, unions, religion, councils, health care, banking regulations, town planning etc) should be reformed out of existence. In a market of individual consumers, there is dynamic innovation to create demand for goods and services and generate profits for companies. An indication of that dynamism is change. It doesn’t matter if the change is poorly thought out and damaging as long as it is happening. It is down to the market to determine if change is for the better not voters, councillors, groups of parents, professionals, governors or religious leaders.
Academisation sees the breaking of the link between a local community and its school. People did not have much connection with a local authority but they did feel a strong tie to their school. For the government, that tie should be rational calculation as a consumer choosing from a range of knowledge providers. There is a genuine idealogical belief at the heart of policy that without key features of society and community, education will be free to improve but it’s not the freedom for headteachers, families or staff that is proposed; it’s simply a freedom for the market.
The awkward truth for the government is that there is no evidence that academisation will improve education. What it will do is fundamentally change the purpose of education and remove the checks and balances that prevent poor decisions. Forced academisation is, as has been pointed by more articulate people than me, at heart, an assault on democracy and accountability. This assault is not with evil intent of the type a dictator may possess but an attempt to free schools from democracy and local accountability because those two elements get in the way of change.