Labour is pledging a crackdown on academies and free schools if it is returned to power at the next election.
The party’s education spokesman, Stephen Twigg, said it would give councils the right to deliver early warning notices of failure to them if there was any evidence their standards were slipping. In addition, the Local Government Ombudsman will be given powers to investigate any allegations of covert selection made against them by parents.
At present, councils can only deliver warning to schools under their control – while there are no powers for the Ombudsman to intervene in complaints over academy and free school admissions procedures. In a speech to the Royal Society of Arts yesterday, Mr Twigg said Labour “wouldn’t tolerate failing academies and free schools”.
“They should be held to the same high standard. Any that fail will be given a chance to turn things around or they will have to take on a new sponsor and leadership,” he added. “Local authorities should be able to issue early warning notices to academies and free schools in the same way as they can for maintained schools, so underperformance is challenged early.”
On school admissions, he said there was too much “social selection playing out in the system”. This was supported by the fact that the proportion of children from low-income families in the top 500 comprehensives was less than half the national average.
Under Labour, there would be no new free schools, but it would encourage the setting up of “parent-led academies” in local communities.
Mr Gove reacted by saying Labour’s policy on free schools was “so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering”. “On the one hand Stephen Twigg says he will end the free school programme but on the other he says he would set up ‘parent-led’ and ‘teacher-led’ academies – free schools under a different name.”