by David Butler
“Woo! Balrog’s dead” – Phil Smith, upon the downfall of Malcolm Tucker, The Thick Of It
Cheers rang out in classrooms across England. The leaders of the NUT and NASUWT punched the air. The great phantom is finally vanquished. The revolution is over. Except, their celebrations are hollow and wasted. For there will be no return to the status quo ante. Gove’s school structure reforms are not going anywhere
In policy-making terms, institutions matter. Institutions set the rules of the game; they mediate and seek to balance powers through norms and rules. In the case of education, this means moderating the competing demands of parents, teachers, business, the wider community and the state (on behalf of the taxpayer/general citizenry). Through building institutions, politicians can embed the aims and principles they are seeking to achieve and extend.
The institutional analysis can help explore Gove’s expansion of academies and creation of free schools. His reforms represent the culmination of a thirty-year project (of both centre-left and centre-right) to create, mould and embed a new institution, namely the independent state-funded school. Baker’s City Technology Colleges evolved into Adonis’s City Academies, which in turn provided the foundations for Govian Free Schools (and the Twigg-Hunt proposed Parent-Led Academies).
School autonomy, the main feature of the new institution, involves greater freedom over the curriculum (and its delivery), ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, and control over school day and school term lengths. This autonomy is aimed at raising standards and extending parental choice (the principles capture by the institution).