The Labour Party recently used an Opposition Day to hold a debate on the Government’s Schools White Paper.
The White Paper set out plans to require all schools to become academies by 2022. It also proposes that schools should no longer be required to reserve places on their governing boards for elected parent governors. I believe that these plans are deeply flawed. The debate provided an opportunity to air the concerns of parents, communities, heads, teachers and others and called on the Government to put the proposals on hold. Such was the public disquiet with these proposals (which did not appear in the Conservative manifesto during last year’s general election) that the government has now been obliged to draw back on the intention to require universal Academisation by a specific date. However the intention in the long run to make all schools become Academies remains.
I am concerned that the Government’s plans for all schools to become academies constitute a costly and unnecessary reorganisation of the school system. We need to build a school system that provides an excellent education for all children regardless of school type and there is no evidence that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement. There are outstanding academies and excellent community schools, but also poor examples of both. Furthermore, the vast majority of schools affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated good and outstanding.
During the debate I was able to raise the particular point that, with schools facing a 7/8% cut in real terms funding over the next 4 years (and possibly more in London if planned changes to the distribution of funding go ahead) this is the worst possible time to be diverting time, energy and anything up to £1 billion on structural change.
The pressing problems facing schools today include teacher shortages and morale and major overhauls of curriculums, exams and assessment. We should not be diverting money and effort away from these issues, which are far more relevant to raising standards than whether schools operate under the auspices of an academy or not. In addition, I believe that the option to do away with parent governors from school governing bodies is a highly retrograde step which will reduce the genuine involvement of parents and communities in local schools.
So ‘thank you’ to all those who wrote to me about this very important issue and please be assured that my colleagues and I will continue to oppose the Government's plans and do all I can to ensure that parents, children and communities are at the heart of decisions on our schools.