In the 2015 Queen’s Speech the Tories said that they would introduce measures to academise more schools, believing that academies, in and of themselves, were inherently good. The government then specified that it would go about doing this by forcibly academising all secondary schools in England. However the government have announced that the Education Bill will now be amended to encourage local authorities to convert schools, rather than impose it from Westminster. Not only is this a victory for local communities, but it is also a victory for people who understand the education system.
The Queen’s Speech is an archaic bit of pageantry that I don’t particularly care for, but the event does serve a somewhat important constitutional purpose. The event is supposed to outline what the government will do in the coming year, and most of the time it is promoting policies that were in the governing party’s manifesto. The forced academisation was not specifically mentioned but the intent to create more academies was undeniably there.
The reason I bring this up is that the Queen’s speech is a symbol of government legitimacy. The governing party has the legitimacy of the British state behind them, and this is why the Queen’s Speech does actually matter. By ignoring a key mechanism for legitimacy, the Tories are essentially undermining a fundamental aspect of the British political system, which many Tories love beyond all rationality. The point of a Queen’s Speech is to set out a legislative programme, but if the Tories are going to go back on their own announcements, there is no purpose for this event. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care that the monarchy’s role in society would be diminished because I don’t support the monarchy’s continued existence, but for Tories this is supposed to be a big deal.
Another noteworthy thing about this announcement was the timing. There have been a number of different news stories that have grabbed the headlines in recent days, everything from the ongoing fallout of Brexit to the decision to expand Heathrow. An old political trick is to bury a news story by making an announcement on a Friday, because people are thinking about the weekend, and whilst there is lots going on.
As a proponent of decentralisation I am always wary when central governments wish to ignore what local people want. Not only would academisation have ignored what many local people and councilors would have wanted, but it would have gone against what the teaching profession said.
According to government statistics reported by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) the number of people undertaking initial teacher training courses has dropped by 14% since the Tories have been in power. The same report by the NUT shows that schools are struggling to recruit teachers for full-time positions. Tory education policy is simply to reorganise the education system for no coherent reason, and to demean teachers in the process.
Forced academisation was proof of this, and whilst undoing this policy is a good thing, it should never have been considered in the first place. The Tories don’t understand the education system, and this is just one of the reasons that they should be trusted with power.