Best schools would still be able to convert to academies under Labour, says Tristram Hunt

But shadow education minister stresses his Party would be unlikely to give subsidies

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The Independent Online

Labour would continue to allow good and outstanding schools to convert to academy status, says Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.

“In terms of schools wishing to convert, that should be up to them,” Mr Hunt said in an interview with the Academies Week newspaper published on Friday.

However, he made it clear that a Labour government would be unlikely to give subsidies to schools seeking to convert - as has happened with the Coalition Government.

His comments will upset teachers’ leaders who have been campaigning for an end to academy status - claiming that, under the present government, it has led to a two-tier system of schools.

Up until now, Labour has said it will allow free school and academy proposals in the pipeline to go ahead and introduce its own plans for “parent-led academies” but has not openly encouraged the idea that schools would still be allowed to convert to academies - a policy introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove in the Coalition’s first year of office.

In his interview Mr Hunt stressed: “We want all schools to have the same kind of freedoms that academies enjoy so there is a level playing field ..,”

He said that - in the primary school sector (where 80 per cent of schools are still local authority maintained) - it was not obvious there was a correlation between academy conversions and improved standards.

“We need a rebalancing of interests but still allow schools to make that decision (i.e convert),” he added.

The move has prompted claims that it amounts to a policy about-turn by the party.

Alasdair Smith, of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said: “I’m disappointed by these comments.  We’re just about to publish information that shows the move to academy status has actually ground to a halt at secondary level.

“Headteachers have seen it is not a vehicle to school improvement.  It was sold to them for a long time on the basis that academy status could improve schools but there is no evidence for this.

“Some have done very well but some have done badly.  School improvement doesn’t rely on structure but on the quality of teaching - and I thought Tristram Hunt supported this.  Instead, he has ducked the issue.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Academies have not proved to be a driver of excellence.  For every outstanding academy one can easily find a state-maintained school that equals them.”

However, she added: “If the financial incentive and the harassment from government academy brokers to convert stops the majority of schools will not chose to leave their local authority.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he found the statement “a very surprising change of policy”, adding: “Our understanding of Labour party policy has been that they would give all schools the same freedoms as academies - a position which ASCL supports.

“This would make a formal change of status unnecessary and make for a much more level playing field.”

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “I would never have expected him to reverse the academies programme - although he may find that difficult to justify to some of his supporters.”