Over 60,000 people have signed a petition demanding a referendum on Government plans to force all schools to become academies.
After just 48 hours the petition, on the official Parliament website, is well on the way to potentially triggering a House of Commons debate.
George Osborne confirmed that the Government wans to turn all schools into academies in his Budget on Wednesday. The move would effectively abolish local councils’ century-old role in running education in their local areas – and would arguably represent a major constitutional change.
If the petition hits 100,000 signatures – which seems likely within the next week – the House of Commons petition committee is legally bound to consider it for debate in Parliament. It is already due a Government response after hitting 10,000 signatures.
The petition’s author, Bridget Chapman, chairs the Anti-Academies Alliance. She argues that because the move was not in the Tory manifesto it would be undemocratic to proceed with such a major change without a vote.
Governments in recent years have held referenda on significant changes to the political system – including the introduction of regional assemblies, locally elected mayors, Scottish independence, and whether to change the voting system.
This June Britain will vote on whether to stay in the European Union following a renegotiation of the terms of membership by David Cameron. The Government has also forced councils who want to raise Council Tax above a certain threshold to hold a referendum.
“The Government has announced that every school in England will become an academy. This was not in their manifesto and is therefore a completely undemocratic move,” Ms Chapman wrote.
“There is growing evidence that academies underperform & serious questions about their financial oversight. Buildings & land are being handed over to unaccountable orgs.
“Once they are transferred there is no legal mechanism to get them back. Before all schools become academies we demand the government holds a full public inquiry - that takes into account educational research and the views of teachers, parents and students - followed by a referendum in order to show that they have a mandate.”
Another parallel petition on the Parliament website - which calls for the reform to be scrapped altogether - has also gathered a similarly high number of signatures.
The academy programme was begun under New Labour but was substantially expanded under the Coalition.
New schools were initially set up as academies, but former education secretary Michael Gove since gave all schools the ability to convert to an academy. Now all schools will be forced to become academies whether parents, pupils and teachers want them to or not.
The Tory manifesto said: “We will turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy, and deliver free schools if parents in your area want them.”
Proponents of the change say it gives schools more independence from local authorities to improve, while critics say the schools tend to be run from Whitehall rather than locally and community democratic oversight.
They have more powers over their own budgets, curriculum, the hiring of staff, term times, and the length of school day.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
A referendum would be difficult for the Government to win: a poll of parents conducted in September 2015 by the PTA UK found that 97 per cent would like to be asked before a school is turned into an academy.
Despite both main parties’ promoting academies, they are not popular with the public. Polling by ICM conducted in 2014 found that 57 per cent of people oppose academy schools compared to just 32 per cent who support them.
Ofsted figures from analysed in 2010 showed that many academies were performing worse than other local authority maintained schools while a Sutton Trust repot in 2014 warned that academy chains were worse for disadvantaged pupils.
A study carried out by the Local Government Association last summer found academies did not generally perform any better than local authority-run schools.