Academy of errors

MikeWatson.jpgMike Watson on Conservative attempts to force through the academisation of schools without consultation

As the Education and Adoption Bill approaches the final stage of Report in the Lords on Wednesday, the Conservatives are attempting to abandon democratic process in their rush to widen the school academies programme.

George Osborne, in his autumn statement, announced last month that the government will “help every school become an academy” and “make local authorities running schools a thing of the past”. If this really is the main aim of the Bill, then they are wilfully forgetting the importance of parents having a say in their child’s education.

As things stand, the governing body of a school is required to consult parents before conversion to an academy. But Ministers want to remove these requirements where a school labelled ‘coasting’ or ‘failing’ is being forced to convert. The removal of the right to consultation denies not only parents and the governing body but also staff their only reasonable opportunity to be involved the decision. Given how academies operate, such decisions more often than not bring about a fundamental change to the school’s ethos and status.

Labour has been pressing the government on this issue throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament. Despite recently making a number of concessions elsewhere in their plans, the government appear determined to push ahead with this attack on consultation rights.

After coming under sustained pressure in the Lords, Ministers have conceded that policies to address coasting schools should apply as much to academies as the maintained sector. They have also conceded on parental involvement in identifying proposed academy sponsors. And they are also going to allow Parliament a vote on whether or not the regulations defining coasting schools are acceptable.

Having crumbled on this range of issues, the government remains determined however to defend its plans to force through academisation. That is why Labour have tabled an amendment for Wednesday’s debate calling for consultation with parents, teachers, school governors and indeed the local authority before an academy order is issued. Our motion has wide support across the Lords, with formal backing from the Liberal Democrat frontbench and a Crossbench Peer. They all share our concerns about parents and communities having their democratic rights stripped.

There is a precedent here. Early versions of the 2010 Academies Act also attempted to shut those with a direct and obvious interest out of the consultation process. But after an outcry from parents, governors and councils, the then Coalition government relented.  I hope Lord Nash, the Schools Minister will see sense and announce a similar retreat from the Conservatives this week.

Lord Mike Watson of Invergowrie is Shadow Schools Minister in the House of Lords

Published 12th December 2015

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