There was an astonishing interview on Radio Oxford on Tuesday evening. Melinda Tilley, Conservative Councillor and Cabinet Member for School Improvement on Oxfordshire County Council was being interviewed on the James Cannon programme about the planned conversion of ten County primary schools to academies. This is a coalition government initiative which they hope will improve failing schools.
However, Ms Tilley’s first comment was that “we don’t really know what’s gone wrong” with our schools. Strange, given her job title, and it immediately begs the question that if we don’t know what’s wrong, how can we expect to fix it? Next she was asked if academy status would improve the schools. “Probably”, she replied, “we have to do something”. Could she guarantee the schools would improve? “I’m not going to guarantee that … it’s not my job”, she said. Doesn’t academy status mean the County loses control over the schools? “We don’t have any control now, really”, was her astonishing response. “There’s not much point in your job then, is there?” asked the interviewer. Her reply, “I’m just waiting for the music to stop .. [something about finding another chair] .. No, not really.”
She strongly implied without saying so in so many words that this was a government action forced on an unwilling County Council. In The Oxford Times she is quoted as saying “The Government has set out the method through which change will occur at these schools. We therefore need to move on from that decision and focus our energies on making the change to academy status happen as smoothly as possible.”
So to summarise: the County cabinet member for School Improvement doesn’t know what’s gone wrong and why Oxfordshire schools perform so badly; doesn’t have any ideas what to do about it; believes the Council doesn’t have any control over the schools they run; is being forced to implement a controversial government policy in which she has no faith, and admits her job is just about meaningless. Jaw-dropping stuff.
I should point out I don’t know whether converting these schools to academies will improve the education of their pupils or not. I’m not an expert and I haven’t sought out what evidence there may be which might help reach an informed decision. Nor do I know why the schools perform so badly – it really isn’t my job, and my uninformed opinions aren’t worth anything. But for a responsible member of the Council to admit to such a level of ignorance and incompetence is astonishing.