60,000 people in 48 hours sign petition demanding referendum on Tory plan to force all schools to become academies

The petition's authors say the policy was not in the Government's manifesto and is undemocratic without a vote

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.

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Former education secretary Michael Gove is a major proponent of academies

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.

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.

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