Looming teacher shortages represent a bigger problem than turning every school in England into an academy, according to the head of one of the country’s largest and most successful academy chains, The Guardian reports.
Sir Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, which manages 37 academies in London, says rising house prices are making it almost impossible to keep talented teachers – and argues that education secretary Nicky Morgan’s determination to press ahead with full-scale academisation is a distraction.
“It’s always been an expectation that teaching is a respectable profession and you should be entitled to have somewhere to live,” Moynihan said in an interview with the Guardian. “But it’s not the case now, and nobody in politics is addressing it.
“That to me seems a far more fundamental thing to be worrying about than whether all schools should be academies by 2022.”
Moynihan expressed scepticism at the practicality of the government’s deadline of 2022 for every school to have moved to academy status, saying: “It’s really difficult to tell. It’s a big ask.”
He added: “For me the priority would be: in London you can call schools what you like but if there aren’t the teachers there because you can’t give them anywhere to live, that’s the bigger priority. I’d be spending the money on that.”
His criticisms will raise eyebrows, coming from an organisation that through its founder – Philip Harris, has close links to the Conservative party and has been an enthusiastic supporter of policies expanding academies and free schools.
The chief executive claimed that housing costs were draining public sector workers out of the London, with talented young teachers forced to move overseas.
“Like other schools, we are losing a stream of our best teachers who are going abroad for tax-free deals.
“They are going to the Middle East, they are going for three years at a time and they are explicitly saying they are going in order to build up a deposit, to be able to come back and buy a one-bedroom flat.
“They can’t afford to buy in London, the rental costs mean they can’t afford to save a deposit, so they have gone or are going to the Middle East because they can earn tax-free.”
Instead, Moynihan offers a radical proposal: changes to planning regulations and the offer of government finance would allow Harris and others to build low-cost housing, which they could then rent out to key workers, including teachers.
“What the government should be doing is allow schools and education providers – and maybe the NHS too – to identify surplus land and provide the funds to build housing for public sector workers. We’ve put up over £200m worth of school building – we’ve built them very efficiently. Why couldn’t we also build low cost housing for teachers?
“That is a more fundamental problem on the ground for schools in London than questions about schools structure,” Moynihan said, who said that playing fields would not be used.
Moynihan – the highest paid chief executive of a multi-academy trust in England – also disagreed with the white paper’s plan to remove the requirement for school governing bodies to include parent-governors. “We’ve got parents on all of our governing bodies. Our funding agreement allows us not to have to, but we do.
“If you don’t have parents on a governing body, it’s really easy to get misunderstandings with the community. Having parents there provides people other parents can talk to, and find out what is going on, and that’s pretty useful.”
While Harris has had success in turning around failing schools, in spite of sometimes bitter opposition, Moynihan said his organisation had no plans to expand rapidly.
The government’s scheme, however, would mean 18,000 schools will leave local authority oversight for academy status between now and 2022, with most expected to join the estimated 1,000 new multi-academy trusts that will need to be established to run them.
“We’ve been careful to be geographically focused – all our schools are in around London,” said Moynihan. “That allows us, when we take on a new school, to provide lots of support quickly. We think that’s a key feature.
“I see some chains spread all over the country. It’s possible they will do a good job but I just think that makes it really hard. How can you leverage the resources to improve kids’ life chances, when you’ve got outlying schools 200-300 miles away? So I’m not so sure about that as a model.”
Unlike the Department for Education, Moynihan argues that it is the quality of the school that matters, rather than its management.
“There are whole swathes of the country, in the north and East Anglia, where disadvantaged kids are not getting a good deal. In those places, those councils have patently not delivered – and they would be my priority for change, and you would have the best academy groups focused on those places.
“My view would be you go to the places where what is happening now is not working, either because there is a big academy chain that is not delivering or you have a council that is not delivering. The child that fails and has blighted life chances, either because of an academy chain or a council, isn’t interested in the politics, they just need action. And those are the places I would target first.”
Moynihan says he was approached by DfE headhunters with a view to replacing Sir Michael Wilshaw as Ofsted chief inspector, but won’t be moving. “I really enjoy what I’m doing at Harris and there’s more to be done. I’m not finished here yet. I was one of those kids in a failing school in central London myself, so that’s the core of what I’m doing.”