Recent revelations suggest that David Cameron’s unexpected move to replace reform-minded education minister Michael Gove (who’s been popular with British conservatives) with Ms. Nicky Morgan might have been triggered by more than crass preelection maneuvering to placate teachers and women.
Gove’s earnestly pursued and widely touted “academies” initiative, which allows district-operated public schools to convert to charter-like status and be managed by outside groups, has led to a major scandal in Birmingham, where a handful of such schools were taken over by fundamentalist Muslims.
Because all academies are, in principle, accountable to the secretary of state for education rather than to local authorities, Gove was ultimately responsible for the decisions that led to this situation, which has been carefully documented by inspectors from Ofsted, England’s independent school-reviewing body.
This is not to say that academy status produced this problem. As a close review by Peter Clarke makes clear, the local Birmingham authorities had turned a blind eye to it for ages. Indeed, one can fairly argue that coming under the secretary of state’s authority is what finally surfaced the problem and empowered the government to intervene, which it has now done.
With some 3,500 such schools now operating in England and enrolling more than one in four of all school kids in the country, it was unrealistic to expect Gove and his small staff to know much about what was happening in them. Still, that’s how this enormously important element of England’s school-choice and...