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Six-hour Lords debate raises academy fears


Chris Parr


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At the House of Lords


Former education secretary Estelle Morris has launched a scathing attack on the coalition government’s academy plans, which were debated at the House of Lords on Monday (June 7). And Baroness Morris was not


the only one raising concerns over the Academies Bill, with the issues of how the new schools will cater for SEN students, the pace at which legislation is being introduced, and fears that the changes could pro- mote a “two-tier” education system in England also prompting fierce debate. Under the Bill, introduced for


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ernment has wrongly assumed that academies had improved at a fast- er rate than other schools purely because of their freedoms. In a passionate address, she


asked the Lords: “What evidence is there that a system that is in its


its second reading in the Lords by Lord Jonathan Hill, the junior edu- cation minister, every state school in England has the right to apply to become an academy school; state- funded, but outside local authority control. Schools rated “outstand- ing” by Ofsted would be able to fast-track themselves onto the acad- emy programme by September, while others will be expected to put forward their case for receiving academy freedoms. Schools that become academies


receive the 10 to 15 per cent of their individual budget that usually goes to the local authority, but they are expected to pay for services that would traditionally be provided by the local council, such as transport and school meals. Academy schools are also exempt from national pay and conditions agreements. Baroness Morris said the gov-


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which the legislation was being hurried through. Lord Andrew Turnbull, former


cabinet secretary and chairman of governors at Dulwich College in London, said he had a great deal of concern about the “haste of the bill”, saying the timetable for implementing the plans was “seri- ously misguided.” He also criticised the way in


which schools had been invited to ask the secretary of state for acad- emy status, claiming that they were writing letters saying “yes please, me too” instead of making a more detailed case. Another “serious hole” in the


Bill, according to Lord Turnbull, is the lack of obligation to consult parents and the wider community to explain the academy’s ambitions. “It is an omission, and may


prove to be dangerous judicial review territory,” he said. Lord Hill said that current leg-


Questions: A six-hour debate in the House of Lords raised several queries about academies


entirety independent, with schools free from local authority control, will be more effective than what we have at the moment? The evi- dence which the minister quoted is that schools that had been undera- chieving and were turned around improved their attainment more than the average across the nation. I am sorry, but that is to be expected given the attention that they had.” Baroness Morris claimed that


the new Bill risked diverting atten- tion from the two factors that can really influence how well students perform – teaching and learning – adding that academies had not brought improvement because of the system, but because they had received extra support and been treated like a “favoured child”. She continued: “What is the


justification for taking the focus of the whole machinery of gov-


ernment and the education service away from teaching and learning and putting it on whether to apply for academy status or not? The only justification for this Bill is if the noble Lord can prove that, in itself, it will improve the quality of teach- ing in the classroom. “Which clause in this Bill means


that schools with academy status will see improved teaching and therefore improved learning? There is actually nothing about teaching and learning in the Bill; no mention is made of them. So I am left to conclude that the intention of the legislation is that these freedoms will somehow improve the quality of teaching and therefore the quality of learning. I do not believe that and I have never believed it.” The former Labour education


secretary, who said academies were perceived as “sexy” and “the club


where things were happening”, also claimed that the freedoms available to them were “illusory”, adding that the problem was not that schools do not have enough freedoms, but rather that they do not use them. Lord Hill, describing Baroness


Morris’s speech as “powerful and impassioned”, responded: “I recognise that education is about a lot more than statistics. Many headteachers of academies argue persuasively that academy freedoms have helped them and have helped them improve standards. The fact that more than 1,100 schools have already expressed an interest tells us something about the relationship that they feel they have with their local authority and how they think academy freedoms may help them to do a better job.” Other concerns raised during the discussion included the speed at


islation does not require consul- tation and although the Bill does not change that, he anticipated that schools “will want to consult parents about this, as they do at present”. He added: “The aim of the Bill is


to be enabling and permissive rather than coercive. Our wish is for schools to do this at their own pace.” Elsewhere during the debate,


which lasted almost six hours, the issue of academy SEN provision concerned many speakers. Another theme running through the discus- sions was the local impact that new schools will have, with many concerned that a “two-tier” system could develop, with academies sap- ping resources away from existing establishments. The Bill will be debated a third


time in the Lords before it goes to the House of Commons later this year.


• For more coverage of the SEN and two-tier system debates, and more coalition news, see page 4.


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