Government plans to turn every state school in England into an academy by 2020 have been fiercely criticised by Tory councillors.
Many in conservative-held county councils, including the cabinet member for education in David Cameron’s own constituency, have urged the Government to re-think the plans set out in the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this month.
Their reservations echo those of many teachers and parents protesting against the academy programme, which would effectively abolish local councils’ role in running education in their local areas.
Melinda Tilley, the cabinet member for education at Oxfordshire County Council, which includes the Prime Minister’s Witney seat, said she is “disappointed” by the Government and warned the plans could put village schools at risk.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “It means a lot of little primary schools will be forced to go into multi-academy trusts and I just feel it’s the wrong time, in the wrong place, for little primary schools to be forced into doing this.
“I’m afraid there could be a few little village schools that get lost in all this.”
George Osborne 2016 budget at a glance
George Osborne 2016 budget at a glance
1/8 Debt forecasts up, growth forecasts down
The OBR’s new forecasts have downgraded growth in all of the next five years to 2020. The watchdog says the economy will only grow by 2 per cent in 2016, as opposed to the anticipated 2.4 per cent. Borrowing and productivity growth are also down – with forecast borrowing in 2018-198 £16 billion higher
2/8 New tax on sugary drinks
The Chancellor announced a new tax on sugary soft drinks, which is projected to raise £520 million. At least some of the money will be spent on doubling funding for school sport, the Chancellor says. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the levy
3/8 Tax cut for higher earners paying the 40p rate
The Chancellor has raised the threshold for paying the higher rate of income tax to £45,000. The higher rate is paid by roughly the richest 15 per cent, currently people earning over £42,386
4/8 Increase in tax-free income tax threshold
The tax-free allowance increase to £11,500 in April 2017 – up from £10,600 now. The Chancellor previously raised the allowance from £6,475 in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative manifesto pledges to put the allowance up to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament
5/8 New devolution for counties and powers for London and Manchester
The West of England, the East of England and Greater Lincolnshire will all get elected mayor-led combined authorities with new powers. The Chancellor says they are backed by £1 billion new funding. Greater Manchester will get new powers of criminal justice while London will keep its business rates – giving whoever is elected Mayor a lot more spending power
6/8 Fuel duty frozen for sixth year running
The Chancellor had planned to end the fuel duty freeze he had put in place for the whole previous parliament. In the event, he has announced a freeze for another year
7/8 All schools to become academies
As reported yesterday the Chancellor unveiled legislation to turn all schools into academies. He said all schools would either be academies or on their way to being academies by 2020, and that funding had been set aside to fund the change
8/8 Lifetime ISA
The Chancellor announced a new savings account to encourage under-40s to save for retirement – for every £4 saved, the Government will top this up by £1 up to the value of £4,000 a year. Tax-free ISAs will also be increased from £15,000 to £20,000
“I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that. This is not why I became a Conservative.”
Academies are directly funded by the Department for Education rather than local councils. They sometimes receive support from corporate or other sponsors.
The schools are often grouped into “chains” where a single trust runs more than one school.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the plan would give “more autonomy” to successful head teachers.
He told Today: “If you can get a head teacher who is running a successful school, to have that school become part of a multi-academy trust where he can spread that formula… and change weaker schools into the kind of school that he was leading, that is the essence of the multi-academy trust programme.”
Mr Gibb insisted that forcing schools to make the change was “not diktat, this is about giving freedom and devolution to the school level.”
However, other senior Conservatives in local government, who face losing control of their local schools, have repeated Ms Tilley’s concerns.
Roger Gough, Conservative councillor in charge of education in Kent, told the BBC: “I don’t think there is demonstrable evidence that there is a systematic improvement in performance and certainly not anything that would justify upheaval on this scale.”
Peter Edgar from Hampshire County Council said: “To force all schools would be ridiculously expensive and in my view the wrong thing to do and also could cause in the interim a drop in standards in all our schools.”
Ivan Ould, a former head teacher and Tory cabinet member for children and families on Leicestershire county council, told the Guardian: “The Government seems to be determined to take responsibility for anything to do with education away from local authorities.
“I’ll you’ve got effective local authorities you should take the best practice and expand it across the country. I do not believe a system driven by dogma will meet the needs of children.”
As the petition has over 100,000 signatures the House of Commons petition committee is legally bound to consider it for debate in Parliament.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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