Exclusive: David Laws vs Michael Gove - now it’s civil war in the Coalition classroom
Crisis in the Department for Education as Lib Dem Schools minister demands more scrutiny of Tories’ flagship academies and suggests he will prevent Conservative donor becoming new Ofsted chair
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 05 February 2014
David Laws, the Schools minister, has called for Ofsted to be given greater powers to investigate the performance of the Conservatives’ academy schools, opening a new rift with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. In an interview with The Independent, the Liberal Democrat minister has demanded reform of the system for making key public appointments to prevent cabinet ministers installing political allies.
Mr Laws was incensed by Mr Gove’s decision to dismiss Baroness [Sally] Morgan, a Labour peer, as chair of Ofsted, and is demanding that lessons be learnt. He wants all-party select committees to be given the power to veto major public service appointments to prevent cronyism.
Mr Laws made clear he intends to stop Mr Gove imposing Theodore Agnew, a Tory donor whose Inspiration Trust runs seven academies and free schools, as Lady Morgan’s successor. Mr Laws expects the appointment to be discussed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, in effect giving the Liberal Democrats a veto.
The Schools minister wants legislation to extend Ofsted’s powers so it can inspect groups of academies. Although it can scrutinise individual academies, it cannot investigate these “chains”. Academies now account for 54 per cent of state-funded secondary schools and 1,752 (48 per cent) of academies are in chains of two or more.
Mr Gove, whose critics claim he is over-protective of the chains, is resisting the idea – even though Ofsted can inspect local authorities, which supervise other state-funded schools.
Mr Laws said: “When the academies programme started, it had a lot of enemies and was regarded as a precious flower that needed protection. But this flower has now grown strong enough to survive in the full heat of the sun.
“There are some really good local authorities and there are still some terrible ones. In the same way, there are some good academy groups doing an absolutely fantastic job – like Ark and Harris – and some not doing so well.”
The Liberal Democrat minister said: “Ofsted must be able to shine a spotlight wherever it wants to. I don’t want there are to be any constraints. It ought to be able to inspect the chains.” He conceded that the legislation needed to extend Ofsted’s powers would not be passed before the general election. However, the proposal will be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.
Mr Laws disclosed the Coalition would enter a new phase between April and September. The Liberal Democrats will spell out more clearly policy differences with the Conservatives, in a move bound to cause further tensions.
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for? The Independent quiz matches best political party for undecided voters ahead of the general election
Mysterious 'X-Files' sounds heard miles above the Earth
Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
Met Gala 2015: Beyoncé manages to out-skimp Rihanna, Miley and Kim Kardashian combined with near-naked ensemble
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...
£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...