A young Labour MP speaks out against academies and free schools -- but where are the others?

Francis Gilbert's picture
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Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan, spoke out today, at the Anti-Academies Alliance conference, against the unfairness of the academies and free schools programme. Her complaints will be familiar to followers of this website: the academies/free school policy will lead to increased social segregation, mean resources are taken away from other schools, and lead to the privatisation of the school system. She admitted that she differed from her colleague, Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education secretary, in her views.

It's clear that the Labour front bench are very reluctant to criticise the academies programme. After all, it was the Labour Party, led by Andrew Adonis, that set it up. Throughout the conference, delegates complained that the Labour Party didn't seem to have a view about academies. Even leading "leftish" figures in the party such as Estelle Morris are "relaxed" about the policy.

However, it's clear that the opposition will have to make a stand at some point because the academies programme is going to cause chaos. As Mary Bousted, the leader of the ATL union, pointed out at the conference when academies run into trouble, things are going to get very awkward for the government. When things went badly wrong at the Richard Rose Academy in Cumbria a few years ago central government struggled to sort out the mess: things are still awkward even now. Bousted pointed out that it's going to be very hard to sort out problems if/when a serious accident happens at these academies, or discipline breaks down, or rolls fall etc. Of course, LAs are best placed to deal with these sorts of local issues, but central government is not. Yet it's Whitehall that's effectively in charge of these schools, which are, apart from a funding agreement with central government, entirely independent and divorced from local control.

Has the Labour Party got a view on any of this? What are their views on academies? Could someone important in the party speak up please?

I vote for Lisa Nandy to take over soon: she's young and energetic, a great communicator and she really believes in comprehensive education. I think younger voters will really connect with her.
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Comments

jennifer M's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 23:52

I was at the AAA's conference yesterday and must say I'm glad that I went. The conference left delegates in doubt that schools seeking academy status and making the choice to convert without the full facts and clarity is complete madness. It is so wrong that head teachers and governors can make take the decision to move away from the current system that works for many without consultation with parents and the unions. My message to you is work with the unions and don't be fooled by this government. Don't sit back and let this government destroy our education system - one that has produced so many outstanding and improving schools. yes, education does matter. Mr Gove wants to be known for doing great and wonderful things in the education system, but who is he kidding

Emma Bishton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 09:36

I entirely agree - I want clearer messages from Labour about the importance of population-level planning in education and collaboration between schools. I'm not a teacher, but I do work in public health commissioning, where planning is based on need not demand, and I want to see this parallel with LEAs being strengthened not weakened. With the increase in the number of academies, I fear that a basic commissioning approach designed to ensure that school provision is needs-led and provided on a cost-effective basis, will be lost. I am particularly concerned about the effect all this will have on meeting the needs of children with special needs.

Free schools are the worst example of 'want not need' influencing educational provision. I understand there is one aspect about free schools that may be positive from a general political perspective - that they increase engagement by parents in schools. Nobody is arguing against the involvement of parents in education, but Free schools (the opposite of needs-led provision) are not the answer as all they increase is division.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:17

What Labour need to do, on the Academies issue, is to remind us of the distinction between Labour Academies and Coalition Academies. The former were created in places where there was genuine need to improve education in the local area and they were not pitted in direct competition with Local Authority schools. As we know, the Coalition have bastardized this policy, with Academies spring up willy nilly all over country, with maintained schools under severe threat. However, there is no getting over the fact that the creation of Academies opened the doors to the free market entering state education.

Free Schools are still a side issue but it is nevertheless disappointing that Labour are giving their support to Newham Free School. This may be out of support for a former party colleague, but Labour played into the hands of FS advocators who seized on a "Labour Free School" and held it aloft as both an endorsement by the Opposition of the Free School policy. Actually, the Opposition has been very critical of the Coalition's education policy but amidst the loud chattering and clammering, Andy Burnham's voice has not been loud enough. He has to shout now. Or even shout down.

It certainly isn't too late for politicians of both parties to do a U-Turn. The Coalition have made a few on education already and the big news at the moment is Cameron's U-turn on the NHS. But better that our leaders admit to mistakes and do a U-Turn, rather than continue to race down a dark road of entrenched policy leading nowhere but to disaster.

It may be too much to hope that the Coalition will modify it's schools policy but it is not too late for Labour to do it's own U-turn on Academies and Free Schools. By doing so, they will attract a huge swell of support from so many voters who are becoming more and more critical of the government school's policy.

The time is right for Labour to bare it's teeth and show that there are people in the party who feel genuine anger about Coalition policies in all areas, including schools. After a year in government, the Tories are in revolt, the Coalition is in disarray, the LibDems are in their final death throes yet Labour are curiously silent and are now made to feel embarrassed by the leaks of secret documents showing Ed Balls role in ousting Tony Blair.

But this is old news and these "secrets" have been recounted in political memoir after political memoir. It is difficult not see their leaking by the Telegraph as a means of the government attempting to discredit Labour one year after coming into power, when they have done little to improve the economy, ruined public services and the arts, made the wealthy very happy indeed and embarked on a mission to fragment the nation.

Labour need to seize on this and see it is the sign of weakness that it really is, instead of licking it's wounds and allowing voters to swallow the accusation that Labour caused the deficit and the good old Coalition are trying to sort out it, so blame your miserable lives in Labour. No - we have to blame our miserable lives on the Coalition, whose every policy is designed to take away from the poor and give to the wealthy, which is really what Academies and Free Schools are designed to do.

Ed Milliband and Ed Balls should feel no embarrassment or shame about these leaks and they must not let the government try and take any political advantage from them. This really is ancient news now and, unlike the Blair/Brown years, the current Labour party is enjoying a time of great harmony and co-operation. This needs to be translated to the voters as being the very bedrock of strength that will be their biggest weapon to fight a fragmented Coalition and a Tory party in revolt. It is the government's disarray and self-serving instincts that are behind their muddled, incoherent and destructive policies.

Michael Keenan's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 13:21

The current Labour MP for Education, Andy Burnham doesn't seem to want to get involved in criticising Free Schools. Is this because Everton FC are planning on opening one? http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6087620

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 22/09/2011 - 12:07

Andy Burnham is not up the job, his appointment indicates to me that Labour is not taking education seriously. Burnham's performance has been woeful and as with so much about Labour, there is no vision, no leadership and they just do not seem to stand for anything.
This goes back to Milliband's inept leadership which is demonstrated by his inability to make sound shadow cabinet appoinments.

I disgree with 90% of Gove's prnouncements but at least we know what he is about and he is shaping the agenda albeit an agenda I have little time for. I will stop here as I can feel my blood boiling.

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