Monday, 21 March 2016

A Radical Power Shift

The measures set out in the Government's Educational Excellence Everywhere (EEE) white paper are not undemocratic. Regardless of the electoral turnout or the content of the pre-election manifesto, any elected executive in the UK's parliamentary democracy is mandated to put before both Houses whatever legislative programme it chooses.

Moreover, where legislation isn't necessary, the executive can impose any reform agenda it wants, provided its imposition isn't in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) or the Human Rights Act (1998), or likely to be subject to judicial review under ultra vires provisions, that is to say that its imposition could be ruled unreasonable or procedurally defective.

As little or no legislation is needed to effect the changes set out in the EEE white paper, and as its implementation is unlikely to be struck down by the judiciary, anyone who argues that it is undemocratic is obfuscating or thinking wishfully.

Alternatively, they are simply using the wrong word.

The EEE represents, unarguably, a substantial power grab from local to central government. Equally, it represents a substantial transfer of assets and public money to the private sector. In both cases, this could be argued to be anti-democratic.

What is democracy? Simply put, it is a governmental system which allows people to hold their political leaders to account. They do this at the ballot box, but, as my Year 10 reminded me today, in a myriad of other ways too: protest and demonstrations, petitions and letters, campaigns and advocacy, litigation, membership of parties and pressure groups, and most importantly, according to them (and this made me proud) by getting an education. Democracy thrives on tolerance of the expression of all these views, and on people's ability to effect change.

Cameron, D, A Radical Power Shift, in The Guardian, 17/02/2009

One of the key arguments against proportional representation in the UK is that it breaks the link between the constituency and their MP. Localism is seen as key to ensuring the legitimacy of representatives in Parliament. Yet the very advocates of this localism are the same who will gladly sacrifice it in the case of the coercive total academisation of schools in England.

Who will a parent turn to if an Academy Head of School proves unsatisfactory in their handling of a situation? The answer is an unelected board of trustees, the trustees of a (albeit not-for-profit) private legal entity. Where will its headquarters be? Well, anywhere they choose it to be. You may be lucky and it may be up the road, or you may be unlucky and it may be in another county. According to the white paper, it is intended that escalating complaints to the DfE will be streamlined. And an ombudsman put in place. Alternatively, there are RSCs and a NSC. In the case of financial irregularities, I can only assume the regulator will be the Charities Commission.

Is that any clearer than the byzantine machinery of local government? No. Which is no defence of that machinery, but a suggestion that a government truly committed to localism and democratic accountability might have focused their reform agenda on improving that, rather than undermining it.

And who will you be able to vote out when you are dissatisfied? Nobody. Nobody with any accountability for any of it. The only solution in the self-improving system is to spin the wheel of fortune and pray for a better outcome in the MAT stakes. Meanwhile, the idea that schools will become any less of a political football because of a more school-led system is entirely erroneous. Only one lever will be left for politicians, and they will use it at every opportunity: the curriculum. Show me the MAT that will allow its schools to opt out of league tables. Show me the consumer parent who will accept a product without a price tag. And who will continue to suffer from that?

The liberal economic thinking that underpins this reform agenda seems to dictate that removing opportunities for democratic accountability will make the electorate value those opportunities more. The opposite may be true: that demand for democracy is plummeting and supply is responding to that.

After all, it is all perfectly democratic. We voted for it.

May the odds be ever in your favour.


  1. Excellent analysis JL. I think it is an important way of looking at democracy, as holding powerholders to account. Taking this further it is about engagement and dialogue between thos in public office and the people. Anything that diminishes this is anti-democratic, EEE has that character. It transfers responsibility to systems, structures and organisations that do not have robust democratic mechanisms.

    The only thing I am not sure about is the transfer of property and assets. As well as this (something else I am not sure about) is that LAs pick up any remaining debt from the school before it is transferred to the academy trust.

    1. Re land and assets:
      "The conversion process involves at least five elements:
      + negotiating a commercial transfer agreement for the transfer of assets and contracts of the school(s) from the local authority and/or governing body to the academy trust;
      + arranging for the academy trust to have use of the land and buildings of the school(s), usually either by way of a 125 year lease with the local authority or the transfer of the freehold of the land, as applicable."

    2. Re debt:
      "Where a school with a deficit is to join the AT of an external sponsor and open as a sponsored academy, the deficit remains with the LA, to be funded from its core budget."

  2. Broadly agree with your analysis but I am tempted to say the whole thing is unconstitutional in its disposal of locally managed material goods accumulated by the efforts of generations of citizens to be held as a universal benefit. If we took the same line with the material and human resources of the armed services it would be considered treason as it undermines the security of the state and hands over public goods to private agents.

    1. Unfortunately, with an uncodified consitution, nothing is binding on parliamentary sovereignty. It's wrong, but it isn't unconstitutional.Plenty of the work of armed services has in the past decade or more been outsourced to private companies, and those are not registered as charities. They have committed crimes in the name of national security that no government can be held accountable for. I hope, though it is only hope, that no crime is committed in the name of education.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.


Thanks for engaging. I aim to respond to all the feedback I get because that's why I write: To share ideas.