Forced conversion of schools to academies


Over the last year I have been raising the issue of local primary schools being forced – and often bullied – by Michael Gove’s Department for Education into becoming academies.

One of the main problems has been a complete lack of transparency, with schools unable to get dispassionate guidance from government officials or even to get them to put information in writing, and ministers seeing absolutely no need to keep MPs in the picture about the local schools in the area.

Yesterday afternoon there was a debate in Parliament on the forced conversion of schools to academies and I used the opportunity to raise this issue again:

I have had a number of schools that have received not only that suggestion, but the message, “Don’t talk to the parents before everything is signed, sealed and delivered.” Is it not also strange that ministerial policy is that Members of Parliament should be told about academisation only after the funding agreement has been signed, thereby removing any chance for democratically elected Members of Parliament to advise, consult with the school or have any say in what is about to happen?

In her speech the education minister Liz Truss spoke at length about what she saw as the benefits of academies. However, she was unwilling to answer questions and failed to respond to the issue I raised or the subject actually being debated: that of schools being forced, as opposed to choosing, to become academies.

Labour’s shadow schools minister, Kevin Brennan, put a number of questions to the minister:

  • How many schools does she know of that have successfully resisted forced academisation procedures?
  • How are the academy advisers recruited? How are they rewarded? Is it true that they are on a payment-by-results regime? Is there any code of conduct for those people as to how they should behave?
  • Is it acceptable to insist on meeting heads alone, not allowing them to have other people with them?
  • Do the advisers have targets? To whom are they accountable?
  • What evidence is there that forced academisation raises standards?
  • Why has the Department backed down in the face of a legal challenge from Coventry council about forced academisation?
  • Will she undertake to ban gagging orders on heads who are forced out of their jobs and introduce transparency into the process?

He found the minister similarly unwilling to answer.

You can read the debate in full online here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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