Thank you to all those who emailed me regarding proposals in the Government White Paper about extending the academy conversion programme. On Wednesday 13 March, Parliament debated the issue of education reforms on a motion put down by the Labour Opposition. I attended part of the debate and had the opportunity to raise my concerns direct with the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, about why the Government felt it necessary to convert all schools into academies on a compulsory and arbitrary timetable rather than let them migrate ‘organically’ across to that status if there was the local demand for it. Whilst I support the academy programme, which was of course initiated and strongly supported by the last Labour Government, I also believe in choice in education and engaging the local community in probably the most important activity to take place in our communities; the education of our children.
You can watch the full debate from yesterday here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/c1a5c42c-9f3d-4458-83b5-d10063c3a731?in=16:15:18, alternatively you can watch a podcast of my particular intervention here: https://youtu.be/sdgEmJcPD_c, which is also on my Facebook page. The measures we discussed yesterday are part of White Paper draft proposals that are yet to be instituted into legislation and obviously have the capacity to be changed considerably before the final version, which given the strength of feeling amongst a number of Government MPs in particular I think that is possible.
Another area where I have concerns is the proposals that future academes will no longer routinely involve elected parent governors on the governing board and whilst it is important to include as many relevant skills sets as possible I do think there remains a strong role for clearly identified and motivated parent governors, directly accountable to the parent body.
Not surprisingly, the academy issue instigated many emails and I recognise the strength of feeling with or without being prompted by lobby groups with their own agendas such as 38 Degrees. Whilst I think the academy programme in my constituency has generally been a success, with all but two secondary schools now academies, it has not been without problems and in some cases controversy. What is disappointing from the correspondence is the lack of detail and concerns taken from a local perspective. Very few people identified themselves as teachers, governors or parents giving examples of why they think a compulsory conversion to academy status for their school would be detrimental to local education. Some people talked in terms of Government centralising the education system for example yet one feature of academies is that they do not blindly have to follow a nationally prescribed curriculum and can adapt it for their particular students. Some people referred to big corporations ‘muscling in to make a profit from schools’ yet academies are trust’s with charitable status and are not allowed to make a profit.
In order to strengthen my hand when scrutinising these proposals as they move from consultation to legislation it would be very helpful if you could write further with specific examples of why you think these academy measures would have a specific detrimental effect on your local school, how and why. The most powerful tool in Parliament for an MP is to be able to quote directly from the experiences of constituents rather than just echo objections in rough general terms, so I would therefore be very grateful if those who have already written in could give this some more thought and respond in their own words.