I’m slightly perplexed at the moment. I had always thought that as Liberal Democrats we were, on the whole, against academies. Before someone comes on here and cites examples of Lib Dem councils backing them, I am not talking about what we are doing in specific cases where we have ended up supporting them simply because individual schools have decided to go down that road and you don’t want to be seen to be undermining a decision that is supported by the local community. What I am talking about is actual national party policy and what we would do if we were in government and had a free hand to put our policy in to practice.
The reason I ask this now is because I have spotted a recent press release put out by David Laws condemning Gordon Brown for moving Lord Adonis away from his job as Education Minister. He says:
Gordon Brown’s decision to move Lord Adonis from his key schools post is a disgrace… We can now be sure that all of the momentum will seep away from the academies programme, which will continue to exist in form but not in substance.
To me that sounds like a fairly strong endorsement of the academies programme. After all, why would you be concerned that that the “momentum will seep away” if you don’t want them in the first place.
So what I did was search on the party website to find out our education policy and I have to say it is pretty difficult at the moment. I know we are consulting on our our policy on 5-19 education, but I would have thought that we would still have our current policy freely available.
The best I could find was a speech by Nick Clegg where he says:
Let’s look at Academies. There is plenty wrong with the government’s Academies programme – from the selection rules to the absurdity of trying to run schools all over the country at the behest of one Minister in the House of Lords.
Whilst it is not an outright condemnation of academies, and Nick has argued for schools to have many of the same freedoms that acadmies currently have, it also doesn’t seem like wholehearted support. It is also nowhere near the support that David Laws seems to have offered in a press release that was presumably put out by the national party in the hope that it would be used by the press.
My question about academies shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given that I have been pretty open about my concern over proposals for ‘free schools’ and about reducing the involvement of the state in education generally, (yes, I am pretty left wing when it comes to public services). I feel that idea of free schools is more coherent than the rash of ideas that the government comes up with, such as specialist schools, technology colleges, academies, trust schools etc, which to me smacks of initiative-itis. But I am wary of the party being seen to support academies when as far I can recall they are not party policy.