The march of academies takes a step forward today. The government will publish the Education and Adoption Bill, which will make it a legal requirement for failing schools to convert to academies. There are currently 235 schools deemed to be failing by Ofsted and the Department for Education estimates that 1,000 schools will convert to academies over the next five years as a result of this new agenda.
The education secretary Nicky Morgan is fulfilling a manifesto commitment with this bill, but also seizing on the momentum of a new parliament to ensure it passes quickly — as happened in 2010 with the original Academies Act. On the Today programme, Morgan said the new bill is to empower parents who want a better education for their children:
‘We want everybody to have a say but there comes a point at which a children’s education has to be absolutely paramount. These are schools that have not just been failing for not just months but often years and they’ve been in special measures for quite some time. A day spent in special measures is a day too long.’
Although 81 per cent of Britain’s schools are currently rated good or outstanding (according to Morgan), the Education Secretary appears concerned about red tape and lengthy legal challenges that are obstructing further progress. ‘I don’t think it’s right that often a whole academic year can be lost in debates about the conversion process,’ she said.
Naturally, Labour and the teaching unions are pretty unhappy. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, tells the Daily Mirror it’s ‘very depressing to see the government’s partisan and divisive education policy continuing into this parliament’. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union, also said ‘local people are not being obstructive when they raise concerns about the forced academisation of their schools’.
This fight is one that Michael Gove would have relished during his tenure as Education Secretary — taking on vested interests and creating hundreds more academies. But Nicky Morgan was brought in to be a less abrasive face for the government’s education policies. With Labour and the unions attempting to block her every move, this question stands as to whether she can be as effective as Gove in fighting the so-called education blob. This new bill will be her first big test.