Education Select Committee
The Rt Hon
Stephen Timms MP
As Schools Minister in 2001–2, I introduced TeachFirst. Last February I joined the Education Select Committee. Some things have changed dramatically in the past fifteen years – and some haven’t.
Local Education Authorities I dealt with are being replaced by Multi-Academy Trusts. We didn’t have Schools Commissioners in the past. Sir David Carter, the National Schools Commissioner, told the Select Committee in June 2016 that ‘we are trying to academise the system’.
Tory opposition scuppered the plan announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, to academise the entire system by 2022 but the Government’s goal remains unchanged. Evidence increasingly suggests that academisation is not the solution for raising school standards. Academisation before 2010 – applied to failing schools – did deliver improvement.
Among the much wider range of schools converting since 2010, outstanding schools becoming academies have become better still. However, standards in other schools becoming academies since 2010 have not improved. Some Multi-Academy Trusts are doing brilliantly but others have expanded much too fast. We are starting to see in some the kind of stifling bureaucratic control which gave LEAs a bad name. Schools’ local accountability is being lost and the requirement for Parent Governors abolished. Many academies don’t have Governors any more. Instead power is centralised in the hands of Trustees and local interests sit only on a talking shop.
A few Trusts have troubling links with companies with which they do business. The former Education Secretary suggested that Trusts with no track record of improving their schools shouldn’t be allowed to expand and that disgruntled parents might petition for their local academy to leave its current Trust and transfer to another, giving parents a backstop power. I hope her successor, Justine Greening, will pursue these ideas.
Large scale conversion of schools to academies won’t solve the school standards challenge. Just as fifteen years ago, we have a teacher recruitment crisis. At that time, TeachFirst was key to the successful response.
I hope ministers will respond successfully this time round and that schools will be enabled to equip the next generation to build the kind of society and economy of which we all want to be part.