Lords in revolt over Tory plan to turn all failing schools into academies

Peers’ refusal to back a Bill will herald another stand-off between upper and lower houses

Tom McTague
Political Editor
Saturday 12 December 2015 23:38
David Cameron and Nicky Morgan had plans for ‘automatic academisation’
David Cameron and Nicky Morgan had plans for ‘automatic academisation’

Controversial Tory plans to turn all failing schools into academies, regardless of the views of parents and teachers, are set to be blocked by peers this week, signalling a fresh row between the Government and the House of Lords.

Under new government proposals, which have been signed off by MPs and are to be debated in the Lords on 9 December, all schools face “automatic academisation” if they are rated “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors.

The Education Bill also removes the need to consult parents before forcing the school to become an academy that is free from local authority control. However, The Independent on Sunday can reveal that Labour peers will table an amendment to the Bill, giving parents, teachers and local councillors the power to block the school from changing its status.

It also forces the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to take into account the outcome of the consultation when deciding whether or not to go ahead with the conversion. The amendment has the support of Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers, meaning it is almost certain to be passed – forcing MPs to debate the proposal.

A senior Labour source admitted the amendment is intended to scrap automatic academisation in all but name. He said the move is aimed to stop parents being “cut out” of their children’s education and ensures the same rules apply to all schools. The Bill currently keeps the legal requirement for successful schools to consult parents if they want to apply for academy status – but removes the clause when a school is issued with an “academy order”.

The shadow schools minister in the Lords Mike Watson accused the Government of trying to force through sweeping changes to how schools are run regardless of the views of parents and teachers.

“George Osborne, in his Autumn Statement, announced last month that the Government will ‘help every school become an academy’ and ‘make local authorities running schools a thing of the past’,” he said. “If this really is the main aim of the Bill, then they are wilfully forgetting the importance of parents having a say in their child’s education.

“The removal of the right to consultation denies not only parents and the governing body but also staff their only reasonable opportunity to be involved the decision. Given how academies operate, such decisions more often than not bring about a fundamental change to the school’s ethos and status.

“Labour has been pressing the Government on this issue throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament. Despite recently making a number of concessions elsewhere in its plans, the Government appears determined to push ahead with this attack on consultation rights.

“Having crumbled on this range of issues, the Government remains determined to defend its plans to force through academisation. ”

Labour’s attempt to block the Education Bill is the latest in a series of confrontations between the Government and the House of Lords, where Labour and Liberal Democrat peers form a majority.

After peers controversially threw out cuts to tax credits, David Cameron announced a review – chaired by former cabinet minister Lord Strathclyde – into how to restrict the House of Lords’ power.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Labour Party just doesn’t understand our commitment to making sure no child has to spend a day longer than necessary at a failing school. The measures in this Bill will ensure all children have the same chance to fulfil their potential, extend opportunity and bring real social justice to our country.

“Rather than being on the side of young people and their parents, this demonstrates yet again that Labour will prioritise their own vested interests, rather than focusing on raising standards in failing schools.”

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