Somewhere in the Department for Education there is a brilliant plan explaining exactly how Free Schools and Academies work. It explains what the DfE is looking for from new schools, and the qualities it wants from the “operating groups” who will run these schools. There’s a diagram showing how these ‘groups’ (or trusts, or sponsors, or chains – whatever you want to call them) will apply to run a school and also there is detail about how they are selected. There’s also a list of the groups looking after each school, with noted conflicts of interest, and a clear list of what the data is that flags a big problem. At least, that’s my dream.
But for the past four years much of the converting of England’s schools from local government supervision to a trust (or sponsor, or chain) felt like a murky land grab. Forced conversions left a terrible taste in the mouths of many communities, especially when they were unhappy with the chosen sponsor.
But the worst part was that it made very little sense to the public. WHO were these people taking over schools? HOW were they being chosen? WHEN would it happen to me? My children? Our local school? The uncertainty has been chilling.
So today’s Select Committee, the first of six on Free Schools & Academies, was enormously welcome. And the line-up of four civil servants involved in the delivery of the process were calm, thoughtful, clear and tried their best. It was a lovely change to politicians. And we learned stuff too. The who, the how, the when, are all becoming clear (see tweets below) and even if you don’t agree with this sort of “privatisation” at least we can start to have a more informed debate about it.