Labour demanded urgent action to ensure proper oversight of Britain's growing number of academies yesterday as it emerged that the Government has issued warning notices to eight of the schools that they are under-performing.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, told MPs that his department has has sent "pre-warning" letters to the academies, stating that they must improve standards or face formal demands for action.
His disclosure, to the influential Commons select committee on education, came as he faced criticism for failing to put in adequate safeguards to check on the performance of academies – which are no longer subject to scrutiny by local authorities.
Mr Gove said one solution for under-performing academies was to replace a "weak" sponsor with one with a proven track record. He did not rule out a return to local authority control if the council concerned made a sufficiently robust case for improvements to the school.
Earlier, Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, claimed Mr Gove "didn't seem to have thought through" what needed to be done to detect failure in academies.
There had been reports, he added, of parents approaching the Young People's Learning Agency (now renamed the Education Funding Agency) – the quango with responsibilities for academies – and being told that complaints were not within its jurisdiction.
Mr Gove said he believed the body had been "very effective in dealing with problems with academies".
Stephen Twigg, Labour's education spokesman, retorted: "Michael Gove appears to be unaware that the body responsible for handling complaints about academies is not doing its job properly. This demonstrates that you can't run the secondary school system from Whitehall. With the majority of secondary schools en route to becoming academies, Michael Gove needs to address this urgently."
Labour, he added, is considering establishing new local structures to monitor schools' performance.