The Labour Party and I staunchly oppose the Government’s plans for all local authority maintained schools to convert to academies.
While there are some great academies, there are also some excellent community schools. Indeed, the vast majority of non-academy schools affected by these plans will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated as good or outstanding. Of course, there are also extremely poor examples of both academy schools and local authority maintained schools. I am concerned that the evidence suggesting that academy status leads to improved standards is mixed. A report by the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee during the last Parliament (in January 2015), for example, found that current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall, or for disadvantaged children. Ofsted have also reported recently that the academies programme is not bringing about rapid improvement and, in some cases, has led to decline.
On Monday the Secretary of State for Education made a statement on academies and the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper. On 6 May 2016, the Government announced that they would be abandoning their plans to force all of England’s schools to become academies, following determined opposition. I welcome that the Government have listened to the Opposition, as well as to those head teachers, parents, governors and local government leaders who opposed these plans.
However, the Government’s aim is still for every school to become an academy by 2022. In my view the Secretary of State failed to make a single good argument on Monday as to why that is desirable and failed to address the serious concerns that have been raised. On school improvement, it is now time for the Government to look again at the evidence.
One of my biggest concerns is about the Government’s fixation with structures rather than standards. Enormous challenges face schools, such as chronic shortages of teachers, school budgets falling in real terms for the first time in twenty years, problems in the exam system and a lack of school places, and I believe the Government should now urgently tackle these serious problems.
I can assure you that Labour will do all it can to ensure that parents, children and communities are at the heart of decisions on our schools.