We had our Full Council meeting today in Cambridgeshire. It was interesting if a little long.
A major issue for me was a debate about Academies with the Lib Dems, the Labour group and our token (but excellent value) Green Party member ganging up trying to persuade us that the Academies Bill is the worst possible thing for Cambridgeshire, despite the evidence that some of our outstanding schools see it as something worth exploring. i.e. that some of our best heads and schools feel there may be value in it.
They seemed to be basing their case around the negative impact Academies would have on less successful schools. It's an argument that doesn't stack up for a number of reasons. The main one is that part of the criteria for an outstanding school to become an academy is that they have to partner and help to develop a less successful school. But it is more than that. Education has lost the ability to innovate. As a country we have slid down the OECD rankings over the last ten years - a real sign that our system is failing that decades of top down thinking in education is not doing what it should. It is not because of poor teaching or poor heads it is because an obsession with top down initiative and direction from Whitehall has stifled improvement. We cannot keep doing this - we need to drive up standards by allowing innovation and learning from it where it is seen to work. My belief is that the Academies programme will start to enable this. The Lib Dems of course were defeated on their motion - but what is more important is that they clearly lost the argument too.
Another major part of today's meeting was an agreement to proceed with our Shared Services programme which will see us working with Northamptonshire County Council to deliver joint back off services and functions in order to drive down overhead costs. The Liberal Democrats and others again opposed this, but for some strange reasons. One of these was that we had rushed things - we have been working this up for three years. Another (which came from the Lib Dem leader) was that the pressure on other services meant that we shouldn't be focussing on Shared Services. I responded to this point; the more we can achieve under Shared Services the less budgets in areas like Children's and Adult Services will have to suffer, minimising those pressures are exactly the reason we need to be innovative in the way we work.
It was strange day today. Normally the Lib Dems at least put up something of a coherent argument when they oppose us. Today they didn't get even manage that - certainly not on the two most important issues of the day.