I am grateful to everyone who wrote to me over the Government’s potential plans to complete the process of turning all schools into academies by, at the end, forcing schools which do not choose for themselves to convert.
Academies are one of the few things Labour got right, blazing the trail for high educational attainment since they were established in 2002. Claims made by those on the left that academisation means privatization are bizarre: these remain state schools.
Since 2010, there has been an increase of 1.4 million children in good or outstanding schools, with primary sponsored academies improving their results by 10 percent on average, more than double the rate of local authority-maintained schools. The Government plans to build on this success, so every school can benefit from the autonomy of academy status.
Now, I know this policy isn’t universally popular, with teachers, MPs, councillors and local authorities opposing forced conversion. Buckinghamshire County Council has unanimously resolved against forced conversion, citing problems from cost to support from School Improvement Partners and from safeguards to democratic accountability.
With so much opposition in mind, I waited to write this campaign response until I had the opportunity to raise the issues with the Secretary of State. My understanding is that the Government would like schools to choose academy status for themselves but that they will finish the transformation with legislative force if necessary. That is, the Government is not, as I understand it, planning to move swiftly to force conversion.
What I observe is that all bar one of the secondary schools in the Wycombe constituency have chosen to convert and their new status seems to be serving them very well. The one secondary school which has not converted is Cressex Community School, a co-operative trust.
In the last Parliament, I led a debate in support of co-operative schools which was covered by the Co-operative College here. One of the principle reasons I support the co-operative model is that it furthers democratic self-government, often ferociously: if I am in politics to advance one thing, it is that principle of self-government, which might well be labelled “liberty”.
Today, over 250,000 young people attend co-operative schools in England, and over £4 billion of assets have been transferred from local authorities to co-operative trusts. As a member of their child’s school community, being regularly consulted and given opportunities to directly affect key decisions, parents can have the knowledge that their child is receiving the education they would wish. The evolution from state-directed education to local co-operative schools will be neither simple nor rapid, but I am of the view that becoming an academy is a move that completes rather than challenges the co-operative ideal.
In this very practical matter of policy — whether schools should be forced to be more free, more self-governing — I therefore face a paradox. I recognise with concern the legitimate issues raised by those who usually support Government policy and I will be glad to represent them to the Government. Nevertheless, I think schools should choose to become academies, and co-operative academies at that, if it is their preference: so, while representing legitimate concerns, I will support the Government in this matter.