La La Land


There was a time when the Local Authority ruled supreme. The LA controlled all schools and, as such, all schools were linked. The LA collected all the money from central government and decided how it would be shared across its schools. The LA kept some money back for itself to create services that its schools would – must – use. These ranged from the sort of corporate services (that head teachers hoped they wouldn’t need to use – or understand – such as HR and Legal) to educational services (that head teachers were told they needed to use to improve further, such as school improvement officers and LA-wide data sets). Every school was entitled to LA support and this ensured that no school was left behind.

Except, of course, some were.

There is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: some schools, sometimes, go wrong.

Welcome to LA land.

When this happened, the LA would spring into action. The school would be given more support until it improved. It would have to improve because there was no option for it not to. Sometimes improvements came quickly, sometimes they did not. Schools are complex beasts and they can’t always be fixed by chucking money and resources at it. But, as the LA controlled everything, they had ultimate accountability and there was nowhere for them to hide.

Sometimes, other schools moaned about the LA. What did the LA ever do for them? Forget all the corporate services – who cares about them? – why couldn’t they get more out of the LA? Why was the LA always concerned with the crap schools and not theirs? Why were some of the LA services rubbish? Why couldn’t schools seek out their own services that could be better? Of course, schools that were succeeding could enjoy complete autonomy by creating their own infrastructures; shaping their own curriculum; devising their own approaches to teaching and learning; bringing in their own CPD opportunities; managing their own budgets and working in collaboration with other schools if they wished. Technically, as long as they were delivering the goods, it didn’t really matter. And maybe these schools could be forgiven for wondering what the LA, apart from admissions, safeguarding and SEND arrangements, was actually doing for them.

Then, somebody had a bright idea. Schools could come out from under the LA’s control. They could be standalone schools. Free to do whatever they wanted and, what’s more, they would have more money with which to do it with.

More money?


Because you wouldn’t have to give the LA any money for all their services as you’d be getting them from somewhere else. Up and down the land, schools began to imagine the possibilities. Finally, they could employ their own caterers, HR officers, Lawyers, and accountants. It was as if every educationalist’s dream had come true. Even better than that, you’d be totally on your own. Free from the shackles of the LA who were either leaving you alone to get on with it, or, getting involved because something had gone wrong.

True, some schools couldn’t really see the benefits and decided to carry on as normal.

But those that could see some benefits busied themselves with becoming an academy. Not a school. An academy. An academy where new freedoms meant they could do whatever they wished. Free to spend every penny of the people’s money to get better results, for otherwise, what would have been the point? Academies sought out alternative corporate services and invented ways to generate additional income revenues. Some of them, presumably, found newer ways to deliver teaching and learning that LA schools were not aware of. We heard less about this bit.

Gradually the LA responded by improving its services. Schools, who had never even been aware of the myriad of backroom services provided by the LA, were suddenly invited to meetings to discuss how to improve the quality of the LA’s core offer. Without having to change the name of the school, or having to become a Principal Executive, Heads were becoming more involved in improving the business side of their school. And all at no extra cost.

Then the costs began. Not satisfied with Local Authorities offering their schools more ‘freedoms’ the government decided to further weaken the LA through economic strangulation. Meanwhile, those academies who were (to everyone’s surprise, not least of all theirs) also facing the pinch were resorting to alternative strategies to try and convince their board members that everything was still A-OK; such as flouting admission rules to engineer their pupil intake and using questionable exclusion policies to drive out vulnerable pupils. This heady mix of dubious uses of academy freedoms and local authority neutering only served to make life harder in LA land.


A dim light had been switched on. A cheap neon sign that read ‘join us’ flickered in the dark. Illuminated promises of ‘freedoms’ and ‘cash’ burned the retinas of every LA maintained Head that stared at it for too long. And stood there, flicking the switch as they handed out their glossy ‘sign now, read later’ articles of association, were the regional school commissioners. MATs, they whispered, were the answer. Multi Academy Trusts are the only way you’ll make your school work. The LA is dead. Step over its twitching corpse and join a MAT. Why, we’ll even let you create your own. Imagine that! Create your own MAT [subject to our approval] and the world could be yours!

What could schools do? No matter where they looked they were either facing cuts, a diminishing service from the LA and increasing demands from the communities they served. And all the time the RSCs were whispering matspeak into their ears. Gradually, one by one, they walked towards the light, unable to notice if they were getting burned.

Multi Academy Trusts are the future.

Resistance is futile.

Soon there will be one MAT to rule us all.

Resistance is futile.

There will be a time when the MAT will rule supreme. The MAT will control all schools and, as such, all schools will be linked. The MAT will collect all the money from central government and decide how it will be shared across its schools. The MAT will keep some money back for itself to create services that its schools would – must – use. These will range from the sort of corporate services (that heads of school hope they’ll never need to use or understand, such as HR and Legal) to educational services (that heads of school will be told by the Exec they need to use in order to improve further, such as school improvement officers and MAT-wide data sets). Every school will be entitled to MAT support and this will ensure that no school is left behind.

Except, of course, some will be.

There is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: some schools, sometimes, go wrong.

Welcome to La La land.

Season’s greetings from the DfE


Dear [insert name],

Season’s greetings!

I’m sure, like us, you can hardly believe it’s that time of year again. It seems like only yesterday we were packing away the tinsel and departmental standard-issue baubles, each glittering round globe depicting a past secretary of state for education. (We were certain our Gove bauble got smashed last year and yet when we opened the box there he was, all shiny faced, winking at us, begging to be put back on the tree.)

But here we are! Another year has passed and what a year it’s been. So much has happened, we thought that we’d send out a helpful round robin letter to keep you all ‘abreast’ with our news.

I suppose the big bombshell is that Nicky Morgan left us. This, we’ll be honest, knocked us for six. I mean, one morning she was with us, sat at the breakfast table laughing away about her white paper, then, that same day, she didn’t come home for tea. No warning. No phone call. No text. She just never came home. We rang her civil servants, her colleagues – we even rang her friend – but no one knew where she’d gone. It was almost as if she’d been the victim of a massive loss in confidence and had been told that the only decent thing she could do was to pack her bags and leave. But that doesn’t sound like the Nicky we knew. She was barely aware of anything! We finally gave up looking for her when we saw that she’d left our WhatsApp group.

We tried being single for a bit. We thought that – after Nicky – we’d need a bit of time to adjust. Maybe go through her ridiculous white paper and take out all the bits that were a) mad, b) undoable, c) mad and undoable. We were halfway through this, quite frankly massive, task (seriously, we had hacked the whole white paper down to a single post-it note by the end) when Mummy May suggested we go on a blind date. Now, this isn’t the sort of thing we normally do but we thought, hey, it’s 2016! Plus, Mummy May said that if we didn’t then we’d have to go on Tinder and we couldn’t risk another chance encounter with Gove again.

We met Justine at a Côte brasserie (Justine said that post-Brexit, ministers were only allowed to eat in foreign restaurants to show the public that the government was committed to make ‘it’ work. They were all fine with this, except for Boris, who insisted on only eating at Toby Inns, where he has a special arrangement that gets him access to an English carvery any time, day or night.) It was a quiet night. Justine seemed more interested in the breakdown of the bill, and trying to work out the gratuity to the nearest penny, but, just as we were about to go home, she leant over and asked if she could come back for coffee. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

And the exciting news…

We’re expecting…a new grammar school!

It’s early days, we haven’t had the scan or planning permission yet, but we’ve decided it’s what we want. I originally said just the one but Justine, she wants loads! (That’s so Justine, she’s bonkers!) We’re not sure how we’re going to afford it or whether it’s the right time ‘politically’ but, as Justine said, when is it ever going to be the perfect time? We might as well just go with our heart, cross our fingers and squeeze out as many grammar schools as we can.

Not everyone is pleased for us. Uncle Wilshaw has bored everyone with his views on the matter. He was on Radio 4 the other day, sending the nation to sleep at the wheel, saying that he thinks the idea that grammar schools will help the nation’s paupers is ‘tosh’.  Justine was really funny and said that he had watched ‘I, Daniel Blake’ too many times and that he was soooo out of touch. As if a return to selective education would mean that poor or challenging or socially disadvantaged or needy children wouldn’t be selected. I mean, hello, we’re in the 21st century. And anyway, Justine said that she would make sure that the word ‘inclusive’ was written into the name of the school and that that would sort it. Still, Uncle Wilshaw’s going away soon, leaving us with Aunty Amanda, who hasn’t even been to school, so we should be fine.

In other news, our extended family of School Commissioners continue to do well. Our cousin, David (or Big Dave as he likes to be called) has been doing a lot of running, as those of you on social media will likely be aware. In between runs he’s also found time to raise several new Regional School Commissioners and they are all doing marvellously at big school. They can’t all run as well as Big Dave but they can talk about MATs until the cows come home, or should that be until Big Dave runs home. Bless them, they were all so fired up when our ex promised them that every school will be part of a MAT by the time Article 50 was triggered. The looks on their faces when Justine pulled the rug from under their feet. Priceless. But they continue to tour the country talking as though MATs are the best thing since, well, grammar schools. And we continue to be very proud of them.

Some sad news now though, friends. Grandpa Gibb is still in recovery after his little SATs meltdown earlier in the year. The pressure of inventing new tests and having them leaked all over the internet really took its toll on old GG. He put on a brave face and muddled through it as best he could, but, between you and me, he still finds the whole affair rather embarrassing. Especially when he found out that the boys down at the DfE had played a little prank in the reading paper and had inserted a story about a white giraffe written by Oswald Mosley.

That’s about it really. Oh, our brother Sean is still ‘off grid’ trying to save the world of Ofsted single-handedly, but he texted us last night to send you his love. And Mummy May rang to say that you could look forward to hearing from her later when she’ll tell you why you didn’t receive any money or gift vouchers from her this Christmas. (Word to the wise, don’t mention the word deficit. She’ll go nuts!)

That just leaves us enough time to say, well done you, on all your hard work this year and all the best for the year ahead.

Good luck with grappling with your data and supporting your SEND kids with bugger all money and retaining staff who are working themselves to an early grave and employing staff who haven’t had so much as a sniff of experience of teaching before filling out the application form and trying to fend off academisation and petitioning against the grammar that’s opening down the road and planning for a deficit budget and taking on all the ills of society because you’re the only ones people expect to have responsibility for everything even though you haven’t the time nor the money to do anything but teach mastery (whatever that is) or frontal adverbials (whatever they are) and trying to get through the next Ofsted (because that’s all that matters) without having a massive stroke in the process.

We have every faith that you’ll do marvellously.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


The DfE