Adonis proposes a reform agenda


When Andrew Adonis first looked at City Technology Colleges, the first schools to be outside local government control, he liked what he saw.  He found that they were “fundamentally different and better than grammar schools, secondary moderns and local authority comprehensives”. He was inspired by visiting the Telford CTC run by Kevin Satchwell and the Harris Academy in London where he saw an ethos created by the sponsors determined to abolish low expectation and dismal performance .To his alarm he found that “across much of England, comprehensives were seriously failing”.  A former journalist, Adonis , himself from a disadvantaged background, realised ,  how a good school and high quality teachers  could transform pupils lives, regardless of background. As a key adviser to Tony Blair he developed the idea of Academies, free from local authority control and with a measure of independence. What Adonis grasped is that if you want to change anything for the better in Britain it’s probably best not to waste too much time trying to reform existing institutions, for that leads to a battle against inertia and a reverence for the status quo, but instead to create a new institution to show how much better it could be.  As Lord Baker has pointed out Adonis’s policy was not to bring back selection for academies since that would lead again in his opinion to a morass of poor secondary moderns. The test was to make the all-ability school better. Getting outside sponsors in to re-launch schools seemed like a good idea to enable a fresh start. But it wanst easy and he invested much personal  time and effort trying to matchmake.

By 2002 the first three academies had opened. One of Blair’s last acts in 2006, before stepping down as prime minister, to make way for Gordon Brown the following year, was to announce a target of 400. Brown, however, was less attracted to the idea, in Adonis’s opinion because the idea was too closely associated with Blair.(the dysfunctional relationship between Blair and Brown served to limit many of the public service reforms that Blair wanted).

Much of his newly launched book Education, Education, Education is a manifesto for what remains to be done. He wants, for example, every private school and university to agree to sponsor a failing comprehensive — something he regards as a moral duty, because it “could do more than any other policy in building a one-nation society and bridging class barriers”.(When politicians speak of moral duties and responsibilities  many people, for good reason, switch off-its surely better to stress the mutual benefits that accrue.)  Crucially, he also wants to weed out bad teachers. “No school can be better than its teachers,” he says. “The reinvention of teaching, to make it the country’s foremost profession, is the next imperative.“ Teaching is still barely a selective profession in England, with an average of only two applicants per teacher training place compared with 10 or more in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, which have the best education systems. ”We also need to pay new teachers in maths and science far more — I propose a starting salary of £35,000 [and £30,000 outside London] in return for an end to automatic increments thereafter.”  Adonis wants to see an expansion of Teach First, by which highly qualified graduates are attracted to teaching – 5,000 by 2020 – and he also wants to see a technical baccalaureate alongside the EBacc; as well as the reform of technical education which we have made such a hash of for more than 100 years. He strongly supports the first step along this road with the new UTCs – the employer-led and university-supported 14-18 technical colleges. But he is silent as to whether GCSEs at 16 will be necessary when the school leaving age increases to 18 in 2015.  Adonis has many fans who might be relieved to hear that he is working on Labour’s next manifesto, alongside Jon Cruddas, the party’s bright policy chief.

Not everyone though believes that his academies scheme is some kind of panacea. They point out that, certainly initially, Academies were among the worst offenders in exaggerating their improved academic performance through clever manipulation of soft options and GCSE equivalents. If you take that into account, their progress is not that much different from other state schools, the argument goes. Chris Woodhead plays down Adonis’s significance and makes a fair point that academies are not nearly as independent as politicians would have us believe. They are ,of course, subject to all sorts of regulations and bureaucracy imposed from the centre, and have to sign a Funding agreement, with DFE, which limits their independence. Woodhead wrote  in the Sunday Times  a couple of weeks ago  ‘A school that depends upon the Department for Education for its funding and that is not permitted to decide its own admissions policies is not an independent school. Academies are schools that have chosen national over local government control.’ There is also some evidence that Academies are not varying their curriculum much, one of their key new freedoms.  However, this government is entirely committed to the Academies scheme, so much so that a majority of secondary schools are now academies and the government can produce figures that indicate their improvement is faster than other schools.   Few doubt the influence that Adonis has had on the education landscape or his commitment to social mobility and improving educational opportunity .

His book is really of most value in terms of looking to the future and what is needed to sustain progress in our education system and to build on the Blair/Adonis legacy.

Note- 54 per cent of secondary schools are either already academies or in the pipeline to become academies and there are 1.7 million pupils currently  being educated in academies



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