TORY councillors – including the one responsible for education in David Cameron’s own constituency – have attacked the Government’s academy school strategy. Under the Government’s plans all schools will have to become academies or be in the process of converting by 2020, taking them out of local authority control.
But Melinda Tilley, the cabinet member for education at Oxfordshire County Council – which includes the Prime Minister’s Witney seat – warned small village schools could be at risk if academy chains decided they were no longer viable. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It means a lot of little primary schools will be forced to go into multi-academy trusts and I just feel it’s the wrong time, in the wrong place, for little primary schools to be forced into doing this.
“I’m afraid there could be a few little village schools that get lost in all of this.” Asked if she was “disappointed” by the Government, she said that was “probably putting it very mildly”. “I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that.
“This is not why I became a Conservative.” Her concerns were echoed by other senior Conservatives in local government who face losing control of schools in their local areas. Roger Gough, Conservative councillor in charge of education in Kent, said the policy would cost his local authority several million pounds.
He told the BBC: “I don’t think there is demonstrable evidence that there is a systemic improvement in performance and certainly not anything that would justify upheaval on this scale.” Peter Edgar from Hampshire County Council said: “To force all schools would be ridiculously expensive and in my view the wrong thing to do and also could cause in the interim a drop in standards in all our schools.” And Arthur Barker, executive member for schools on North Yorkshire county council told The Guardian: “I’ve no objection to academies.
“But you need time to do it. You need bodies on the ground. You need dedicated officers to do it. “One of my concerns is the availability of capacity. It’s a big ask. It’s a lot of schools nationally.” Ivan Ould, a former head teacher and Tory cabinet member for children and families on Leicestershire county council, told the newspaper he did not ‘believe a system driven by dogma will meet the needs of children’.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb spoke on the Today Programme this morning to defend the Government’s plan. He said: “If you can get a headteacher who is running a successful school, to have that school become part of a multi-academy trust where he can spread that formula, he can use his expertise to take the winning formula that made his school a successful school and change weaker schools into the kind of school that he was leading, that is the essence of the multi-academy trust programme.”
Mr Gibb insisted that forcing schools to make the change was “not diktat, this is about giving freedom and devolution to the school level”. He added some local authorities were “strong” but there were “many weak local authorities that have not been as rigorous on ensuring that under-performing schools improve the academic standards of the children than they should be.
“The academies programme means we take swift action when schools or academies are under-performing.” The minister said breaking the power of the education unions by taking schools out of council control was not the Government’s agenda. His words will be of interest to the National Union of Teachers which is meeting for its spring conference in Brighton today.
The union is opposed to the Government’s academy plan.