Estelle Morris: Determination becomes obstinacy at the Department for Education

Writing in the Guardian, former education secretary Estelle Morris says that after six months, this government’s schools policies are becoming clearly defined, but not necessarily popular or right.

…Ministers have crafted a clear message about their priorities. Their wish to improve education is evident and I welcome some of their actions – the commitment to the pupil premiummaths hubs and some of the work on special needs – but beyond that, three more significant areas of activity are emerging.

First, there are measures designed to remedy errors from coalition days. Take the pressure on schools to join chains or multi-academy trusts: five years ago, the language was of independent schools and standalone academies, but this led to too many schools isolating themselves and opting out of school partnerships, which provide essential challenges and support. Now the message is that no school should go it alone and every one must be part of a group.

Then there is the increase in power for regional school commissioners outlined in the bill now before parliament. Five years ago, ministers thought they could run every school from Whitehall. Now they are creating an army of civil servants in the regions to share the load. It may be more delegation than devolution, but it’s an acknowledgment that some sort of local presence is essential.

The second area is the policies the government has decided to drive through the system come what may – irreversible changes that it hopes will characterise its time in office. So we have more legislation to convert a further group of schools into academies and new targets for the number of young people who will be expected to take the English baccalaureate. Together with the new emphasis on end-of-course exams, you can see the endgame: a traditional, narrow curriculum, assessed in a traditional, old-fashioned way.

Third are the areas of inaction. Important issues seem to be simply off the agenda, attracting little ministerial attention or leadership: the arts and creativity; sports and early years; the growing pressures on schools from increasing child poverty, cuts in funding and growing teacher shortages.

What does it all add up to? Some will see the pursuit of more academies, free schools and a greater emphasis on a traditional curriculum as a strength. However, there is a point when determination turns into obstinacy. My overriding sense is of a department that is increasingly adrift from the wider mood…

More at: Determination becomes obstinacy at the Department for Education


Baroness Morris goes on to wonder if the government is obstinately at odds with a public that wants a vision of education that understands the importance of creativity, exploration and citizenship.

Do you agree with her assessment of where the government currently is or do you see things differently?

Please let us have your opinions in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Academies and Policy.


  1. A OSullivan

    Estelle Morris was the empathetic and yet self-critical education secretary that we have had within a generation. Enormously capable leading the Education dept, it remains a tragic loss to the teaching profession that she thought at the time that she wasn’t able and proficient to continue with the responsibility.

  2. The Government is determined to carry on with a policy, academization, which it’s now known doesn’t improve the school system as a whole.  Neither does it offer the much-promised ‘freedom’.  The pressure is now on for stand-alone academies to join multi-academy trusts many of which will exert more ‘control’ on their academies than LAs ever did.
    Throughout the Gove era, policies were enacted based on preconceptions despite the rhetoric of being ‘evidence-based’ (they weren’t – the evidence was cherry-picked or misrepresented).  Gove was so biased he slated all opponents, however well-argued their opposition, as ‘enemies of promise’ and the ‘Blob’.
    And it continues as the Education and Adoption Bill trundles through Parliament.

  3. The role of Regional Schools Commissioners is ill-defined and protocol for their action is fuzzy.  This has resulted in one RSC sending out warning letters to 7 academies (none of which were Inadequate – four in fact were Good) without going through the pre-warning stage).  See here:

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