The Government's goal of raising standards in failing schools is a laudable one. So, too, is the localism agenda to put ordinary people in charge of the public services which affect them. But what happens when two sensible aims collide?
The Education Secretary is about to find out. Michael Gove says he wants England's 200 worst-performing schools to become academies, freeing them from local authority control. There is some good sense here. A shift to academy status has helped to turn around dozens of struggling inner-city secondary schools, many of which are now improving their results at twice the national average rate. But a test case is now to be fought over Downhills Primary School in Haringey, which Mr Gove wants to convert to an academy in the teeth of opposition from parents and teachers alike.
True, Haringey's primary schools are the worst performing in inner London. What complicates matters is that Downhills – where nearly 40 per cent of the pupils fail to reach the necessary standard – is starting to improve by itself. And the school's governors have now called in lawyers to draft resistance to Mr Gove's order that they capitulate by next week or face dissolution. Even more concerning for the Government is that Downhills is just the first of as many as 70 schools that could have a similar case to make in resisting forced academy status.
Mr Gove has laid into the dissenters in Haringey in a typically colourful manner. They are "enemies of promise", he says, with a "bigoted, backward, bankrupt ideology". But Downhills' supporters insist that it is Mr Gove who is politically motivated, pointing out that some 92 per cent of parents are happy with the school.
There is a simple solution. In September, a monitoring visit by Ofsted inspectors found a "clear trend of improvement" at Downhills. It is due a full inspection within four months. The Education Secretary need only stay his hand until the review is completed. If there is significant improvement, there is no reason not to allow the parents' wishes to prevail. If progress is insufficient, it is time to turn Downhills into an academy. If Mr Gove presses on, regardless, in the meantime, it is he who is the ideologue.
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