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The schools revolution in action

25 August 2011

12:19 PM

25 August 2011

12:19 PM

Harris Academies, one of the best-known new chains of state secondaries, have today posted an  extraordinary set of results. It’s worth studying because it shows how a change of management
can transform education for pupils in deprived areas.

Pour in money if you like, but the way a school is run is the key determinant. This is the idea behind City Academies, perhaps Labour’s single best (and most rapidly-vindicated) policy. The notion is rejected by teaching unions, who loathe the idea that some teachers are better than others. Bad schools are kept bad by the idea that their performance is due to deeply-ingrained social
problems, etc.

Harris has produced a table showing the results of their schools when they were last run by the council, and this year’s results. It speaks best for itself:


It’s worth examining Harris Academy Merton.  The enemies of Academies (Fiona Millar’s lot) tried so hard to keep what was Tamworth Manor as a council-run school that they took Harris to a judicial review. Harris fought: many organisations would have not taken the time or expense. And thank God they did: the results are up from 23 per cent to 75 per cent.

Ed Howker and I revealed, in a cover story last year, the tactics the unions were
using to strangle the Academy movement at birth and how they were wangling legal aid to cover their battle. They should be ashamed. It’s increasingly and horribly clear that pupils are not the key concern of the unions. Nothing in the history of British education has improved schooling more than Blair and Adonis’ Academies programme. It was fought and put into reverse by Ed Balls in the name of harmony between adults.

The attempt to stop Harris taking over Tamworth Manor was led by Rob MacDonald, one of the few remaining members of the Socialist Party. He was able to claim an astonishing £20,000 of taxpayers’ money to fund his case, and delayed by a year the transformation which Harris brought. Blair should have changed the law, to make these wrecking attempts impossible, but he was unable to confront the enemies of reform (who were backed by Brown and Balls). Gove has triumphed because has presented the unions with too many targets. It’s harder than ever to oppose City Academies and something tells me you won’t see Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham or Fiona Millar popping up on television to explain why the pupils at Merton Academy would have been better off under the old system.

The data for all City Academies is not out yet, but last year’s results already showed they are the most rapidly-vindicated social policy of recent years. Just as well, because there are more of them. Gove has allowed any school that wants Academy (ie, independent) status to take it. Here’s the rollout trajectory:

Of course, we will not see the Harris effect in all Academies; the vast majority of which are not changing management, simply their status. But Harris is a good example of the benefits of creating a ‘school chain’. Its name is synonymous with quality. I imagine similar chains (ARK etc) will expand, competing for pupils on ethos and pedagogical style, as they do in Sweden.

The Harris results demonstrate beyond any doubt that it is a lie to say failing schools take a generation to turn around. It’s also a libel on the pupils from these backgrounds: they don’t lack brains, but were being given a poor education. The results are the most visible reminder of the lesson of the Blair/Adonis reforms: we don’t have to tolerate failing schools. The cure is here, and it is transforming the prospects of thousands of pupils. Sometime soon, Ed Miliband will have to accept that the unions are wrong — and that Blair, Adonis and Gove (and Laws, Baker and
Keith Joseph) were right.


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