What should a future Labour government do?

Melissa Benn's picture
As Coalition policies on education become even more uncertain and chaotic - exam proposals in disarray: the academy revolution possibly heading towards for-profit education: widespread but little discussed cuts to schools' capital and revenue budgets - the key political question is becoming: After Gove: what then?

Whether a Labour government is re-elected or some sort of Lib/Lab coalition comes to power, education policy will continue to be at the centre of the new politics. As shadow secretary of state for education Stephen Twigg will, certainly up until 2015, and possibly afterwards, be a key figure in these post-Gove debates.

So come and hear him speak - and ask him some pertinent questions.

Stephen Twigg will be giving the Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture in Committee Room 10 of the House of Commons on November 13th at 6.00pm.

The title of his talk is: 'Education, education, education: tasks for a future Labour government'.

I will be chairing the event and leading discussion afterwards.

It would be great to see as many LSN supporters as possible there, from around the country. Labour needs to hear from parents, teachers, pupils, governors and heads about what they think is happening to their schools - and what they want to see changed.

To register for the event, please e-mail socialisteducation@virginmedia.com.
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agov's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 12:40

Generous though your invitation no doubt is, the only thing I want to hear from Twigg or his mates is what are they going to do to punish themselves for the damage they did last time such as failing to abolish Ofsted; actually making Ofsted worse by insisting on a programme of political correctness; obliging schools to use calculators instead of actually teaching arithmetic; imposing a regime of pointlessly testing children time after time thereby wasting massive amounts of school time; wrecking educational provision by mass immigration; failing to focus on developing and enhancing teacher professionalism; generally continuing and worsening the tory policies thet were elected to remove - I expect I could think of more but I haven't got all day. If you could indicate what prison sentences they intend to impose on themselves I might be interested. Otherwise I think I'll give it a miss. Thanks, though.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 15:44


Here's my wish-list for the next Labour government:

1. Ensure that public money is being spent where the real need is and not supporting political fads. Acknowledge that there are some things which are more important than 'choice'.
2. Create a strong role for local democratically elected councils in strategic planning of school places, challenging schools and academies on their performance and ensuring fair access.
3. Allow flexibility in the local application of funding formulas for schools to ensure stable funding for all schools. Recognise that what will work in a small urban authority with large schools may be a disaster for large rural authorities with very small schools.
4. Take time and care over reforms to the curriculum and exam system - do not rush to implement change for the sake of it.
5. Make all education policy evidence-based and listen to the experts.
6. Get rid of the anti-teacher, anti-public sector rhetoric which is corrosive and undermining. Trust the professionals to know what they are doing and treat them with the respect they deserve.
7. Have a very careful look at the inspection framework - Ofsted is becoming a toxic influence and appears to be politically driven. This needs addressing.
8. Restore capital funding for basic need and maintenance to realistic levels to ensure children aren't expected to learn in crumbling buildings with poor resources.
9. Give proper prominence to vocational learning - the current focus on academic achievement risks alienating a significant proportion of the school population and is not a viable strategy for creating a highly skilled 21st Century workforce.
10. Acknowledge that schools already have enough autonomy to be successful - they do not need to be forced into becoming academies if it's not what the local community want. Acknowledge that it's not a magic bullet and shouldn't be the default position. Allow local communities to open new community schools if that's what they prefer.

I can't attend the event but this is what I'd be asking Labour to do.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 17:04

The Labour Party have made no significant condemnation of the Free School/Convertor Academy Programme whatsoever and last year didn't have a thing to say about the revised Admissions Code when it was under Consultation. I can only presume that this was because they wanted to see the unpopular policies take hold all ready for the next election.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 20:44

Ask them if they want choice about education, building from grassroots and delivery of services by consent.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 21:35


On another post you were unable to reply when challenged that "choice" was a red herring although you did acknowledge that I may have a point. Can you explain why you think the Labour party should perpetrate the lie about "choice" when this present government's policies have narrowed choice for the majority of people?

And what on earth is "delivery of services by consent?" That is not an oblique reference to your family by the way.

James Blythe's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 06:20

The problem:

'Despite sharply rising school spending per pupil during the last ten years, improvements in schooling outcomes have been limited in the United Kingdom.

Average PISA scores, measuring cognitive skills of 15–year olds, have been stagnant and trail strong performers such as Finland, Korea and the Netherlands.

The extensive reliance on National Curriculum Tests and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) scores for evaluating the performance of students, schools and the school system raises several concerns.

Evidence suggests that improvement in exam grades is out of line with independent indicators of performance, suggesting grade inflation could be a significant factor.

The unequal educational outcomes partly reflect a complex, multi–layered and poorly
functioning deprivation funding system for primary and secondary schools in England.

The implicit compensation for disadvantaged students that the government provides to local authorities is only partially spent on disadvantaged schools and students.

This mismatch partly reflects the complexity of the funding system.'

OECD Economic Survey UK 2011

The solution:

'the stripping out or slimming down or simplification of intermediaries in the process of delivering public services.

Disintermediation achieves ‘joining-up’ by significantly and visibly reducing the complexity of the institutional landscape that citizens confront in trying to access, draw on and improve public services.

A great deal of previous ‘joining-up’ does not qualify as disintermediation because it has been back-office in style and approach.

It matters to in-the-know bureaucrats behind the scenes (and it may be quite important for how they do their jobs).

But it is not obvious or meaningful to citizens, or to firms or civil society organisations, struggling to manage their connections with a complex web of government agencies.

........we created a system of government long ago, with organisational approaches and technologies for processing information that were the best we could do at the time.

UK central government is split up horizontally into around 14 vertical silos, headed in each case by a department of state in Whitehall with its attendant ‘departmental group’ of
quasi-government agencies, or with smaller-scale departmental counterparts in the
devolved administrations........

Of course, some of the 13 public service delivery chain patterns above apply either in England or in devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and regions (i.e. only London at present). And some of the departmental silos are found only in one of the 13 chain patterns above.

So we do not have anything like 13 * 14 (= 168) different patterns to deal with. And some of the 13 patterns are fairly thinly populated in the UK in terms of absorbing personnel
or public expenditure numbers.

But overall I would estimate that there are at least 40 different and substantively important ways of organising the inter-relations across tiers of government in most areas in the UK, each of them with their own distinctive peculiarities, institutional histories and characteristic ways of working........

Essentially it seems doubtful if the UK as a country can any longer afford to fund and sustain an overly complex architecture of services provision that was already tangled in
the early 1980s and was made far worse by the whole new public management
episode from 1985 to 2005.

A great deal of experience has been rather slowly and painfully acquired by local agencies, local managers, professional staffs and grassroots workers in the last ten years in working in partnerships and developing ‘joined-up thinking’ about how to provide citizens with better and more effective public services. These innovations provide an extensive seed-bed of learning and new forms of understanding that break out of previous heavily siloed approaches.

- Reintegration, which reverses the fragmentation of NPM by joining-up and
trying to de-silo processes, by partnership working, by ‘re-governmentalising’
issues that must inherently be handled by the state, by creating new central
government processes to do things once instead of many times, by squeezing
process costs, by using shared services to drive out NPM’s duplicate
organisational hierarchies, and by trying to achieve radical simplification of
services organisation and policies.

• Needs-based Holism is a thoroughgoing attempt to create client-focused
structures for departments and agencies, to implement end-to-end redesign of
services from a client perspective, to put in place one-stop processes (whether
windows, or e-windows, or fully integrated one-stop shops), and to create agile
(not fragile) government structures that can respond in real-time to problems,
instead of catching up with them only after long lags.

And finally:

• Digitalisation covers the thoroughgoing adaptation of the public sector to completely embrace and imbed electronic delivery at the heart of the government business model, wherever possible - for instance by adopting centralised online procurement, or new forms of automation focused on ‘zero touch technologies that do not require human intervention.

Digitalisation also is a key stimulus behind radical disintermediation, the effort to strip out layers of redundant or non-value-adding processes and bureaucracies from service delivery........

one could envisage that the frail elderly, and mentally or physically handicapped people
with severe care problems, could be cared for more effectively with networks that
bring together family members, professionals in health and social care services
and other providers (such as NGOs) in real-time digitally connected networks,
with flexibly assignable budgets and strategies, and many more different kinds
of resources than any one caring organisation currently disposes of.

Or we could connect prisoners in jails back to their families, past employers, lawyers and health professionals via closely regulated forms of digital communication.

Yet the future will in all probability require far more extensive and more radically
thought-through changes, in particular focusing squarely on achieving in the public
sector some of the positive ‘disintermediation’ experiences of digital-era changes
in the private sector.

So far the digital wave has only lapped against some of the roughest edges of public services. It has a great deal of momentum still to run in helping to simplify the landscape of public services in which citizens and businesses operate, and in which government officials and politicians themselves try to understand and positively shape societal development.'


agov's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 07:44


Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 20/10/2012 - 23:17

If you don't understand consent in a democratic society that explains your values and beliefs about how you think schools should be.

You were unable to substantiate derogatory accusations you made about a school I worked in and you can't or won't work out a phrase like 'delivery of services by consent' . Why should I bother to engage when I know I right most of the time?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 08:18

You're wrong Ben. You were unable to respond when I showed you how Gove's policies did not expand choice and may well have narrowed them.

Can you quote back exactly where I make remarks about accusations about a school you worked in? I never named a school. May I remind you that you yourself out of nowhere started a rant about your brother's establishment? How can I substantiate an accusation about an establishment I never made? This lack of reason is bizarre even by your eccentric standards. If you believe you are so right and everyone so wrong why do you bother to come here to engage, especially when you refuse to clarify your many confused and confusing comments?

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 22:34

Allan's words;

"I’m not sure I would unquestionably accept that any child be taught English Literature by someone with poor command of written English who had spent a year in a questionable establishment selling English lessons to foreigners on dubious visas."

Allan, do you have anything to substantiate your claim about a "questionable establishment" and "dubious visas"?

Are you unable to respond to this request?

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 06:30


I have already responded - How can I substantiate an accusation about an establishment I never made? I made a general remark about unqualified teachers in schools. I don't have to substantiate any claims because I didn't make any - I did not name your brother, his establishment or your family. I had no idea any of them existed. At no point do I say you spent time working in it. You yourself suddenly mentioned them and even offered to send me, privately, the name of the school and challenged me to post about it and take the consequences. I made no specific claim about any school. Bizarre, Ben, even by your standards.

I assume even you would agree that "delivery by consent" isn't applicable when Gove doesn't actually allow consent? There are many parents and communities who actually want new maintained schools but this increasingly discredited government doesn't allow that "choice". Gove isn't actually delivering anything in many areas where people want and need new schools, he won't allow LAs to build and open them and no Free School proposers or Academy chains are interested. In the meantime we have, for example, a crisis of primary schools places. What delivery? What consent? This is confusion on a mad level.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 12:16

What you wrote:

"I’m not sure I would unquestionably accept that any child be taught English Literature by someone with poor command of written English who had spent a year in a questionable establishment selling English lessons to foreigners on dubious visas."

Your'e being evasive or don't know what you're doing i.e. lack capacity.

Coventry seem to be cutting off their nose to spite their face, or they lack the ability to collaborate with a party to create two new schools they really need. That says something about the character and skills of that LA, their inability to reflect and learn, make good judgements and serve their community.

I am sure new democratic procedures will develop around schools in the longer term. We will see perhaps more direct ability to create new maintained schools, also the creation of new grammar schools and free schools such as WLFS where at least 240 or so children have consented to the alternative offer available.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 15:57

Not being evasive Ben. Thanks for the quote but within that where do I mention you, your brother, his establishment or other members of your family?

It is Gove who refuses Coventry new schools by passing legislation that takes away choice and the rights of a local community what should be their democratic right to have a say as to what type of new schools they would like. You throw on "collaboration" so can you please explain how Gove has set about collaborating when he has prevented local boroughs to run schools? Gove's policies are as chaotic, blinkered and stubborn as your own confused mind, Ben. Little wonder you are so emamoured!

Phil Webster's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 11:23

1. Form a United Socialist State of Europe

Workers in Britain must reject all forms of racism and nationalism, and link their struggles with workers in Europe and throughout the world. Against the European Union and its pro-business governments, institute workers’ rule across the continent.

2. End militarism and war

No more blood spilled for oil. Withdraw all British military personnel from overseas. Put the war criminals in Westminster and Washington on trial.

3. Defend democratic rights

Anti-terror legislation and other measures that have curtailed individual liberties must be rescinded. Withdraw all anti-trade union and anti-strike legislation.

4. Redistribute the nation’s wealth

Cancel all debts to the international finance institutions, and transform the banks and major corporations into publicly owned and democratically controlled utilities. Wealth must be taken off the billionaires and used to meet essential social needs.

5. An emergency public works programme

Pour billions into the economy to end unemployment and provide decent paying jobs, free and high quality health, housing, education and social services.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 21:58

1. Sort out Ofsted.
Twigg's idea of an advisory body for education sounds okay in theory but it wouldn't actually be needed if we had wise politicians and Ofsted were functioning properly.
2. Create a coherent policy framework within withing which we can refresh our approach to assessment bottom up by using emerging technologies to integrate formative and summative assessment.
3. Sort out the god-forsaken mess Gove has created without succumbing to damaging ideologies and letting go of reality. Actually it's not that people 'let go' of reality it is that they never bothered to work hard to find out what it is.

Thanks for the invitation Melissa and good luck with the lecture. I like Stephen. He knows a bit about who I am and we've met a couple of times. I think he's coming on and miles better than Gove but he's still got a way to go.

If you or he wants help just ask.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 08:19

Stephen Twigg appeared on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday, and despite having to tackle Marr’s repeated assertions that he was “confused” about the Labour Party’s position on schools, made some very good and very clear points which indicate that he and the Labour Party know how to deal with the legacy of a divided and chaotic system that will be bequeathed to them by Gove and, more importantly, are looking to the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

Twigg clearly – and quite rightly – wants all schools, whether maintained, Free or Academies, to be treated equally. This includes focusing much less on the “name on the gate” and more on celebrating excellence in all ALL schools. He criticised the current government for only focusing on Academy achievements when 90% of schools are not FS or Academies and having nothing to say about maintained schools when so many of them were doing very well, including Highlands School in Enfield, which he visited last week. It also means that Academy privileges – including varying the curriculum, school hours – should also apply to maintained schools.

At the beginning of the interview, Twigg exploded the myth that local authorities “controlled” schools by reminding viewers that LAs hadn’t controlled schools for over 25 years. He emphasised the importance of the relationship between a school and its local community and clarified that he would allow Local Authorities, the local community and parents to have more of a say about what type of school is provided in their area, including maintained schools. He identified the importance of having a middle tier of local authority support - he wants LAs to return to playing an essential role in working with all schools in their area, regardless of their structure.

When questioned about EBACC/ABACC, Twigg reminded viewers of the fiasco this summer of grade boundary changes and said that he shared Gove’s view that exams should be “rigorous” but that it needs to be rigour of the future, not that of the 1950s, reflecting skills needed for the modern and developing world. For this reason he would keep modular and course work exams, showing consistency in work and learning, rather than continue with the linear exams proposed along with the EBAC, which depend on memorising facts for one exam.

He acknowledged teacher morale was low under Gove and pledged to work more closely with teachers and teachers unions but he would also want to make bad teachers more accountable.

Many who criticise Labour’s policy of setting up the Academy model and for their reluctance to come and out say they will abolish Academies and Free Schools are dwelling on past mistakes or on yet another sudden reversal of policy and implementation in 2015. We’ve had enough of that under the coalition. Neither is helpful. Labour have to move forward and re-integrate local accountability, allow the local community and parents more say about what type of new school they want, maintain an examinations system that is fit for purpose for the modern era and ensure that all schools, whatever their structure, are treated equally. And that is what Twigg has pledged to do.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 18:00

Coventry LA could pick up the phone to Lord Adonis or Peter Hyman at School 21 or even Francis Gilbert who approved Academy conversion (perhaps with reluctance but realising that to take the money and run is better than no money) in order to get something workable, even if it wasn't ideal for them politically.

The ignorance and lack of vision and effort by Coventry is astonishing.

You made a suggestion by association about me Allan, now when you are challenged you run for the hills.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 19:19

Don't be ridiculous Ben. I made no reference to you at all. By association or otherwise. You are digging yourself into a hole you made entirely of your own making and you are in danger of looking even more foolish than you normally do.

Your ignorance is actually awesome Ben. How is Coventry Council going to get money from central government and 'co-operate' when Gove has banned them from opening or building new primary schools because they can only either be Academies or Free schools which are funded and controlled by central government and not under the supervision of LAs? You haven't even grasped the basics have you Ben?

As for your little swipe at Francis Gilbert, his example had nothing to do with new schools but academy conversion. We are talking about new schools in Coventry. Wake up!

It seems to me that Coventry are using their influence and money for the collective good of their population and looking into expanding provision in existing primaries, thus addressing the problem of the paucity of primary places which Gove is entirely ignoring, whilst opening up half empty free schools in areas of little demand and preventing councils from opening schools whilst waiting increasingly in vain for Academy chains or Free School zealots to jump to it. If there is anyone who is ignorant and lacking vision here, Ben, it ain't Coventry.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 00:07

My point about Francis was he made a pragmatic decision to gain resources. Why can't Coventry create a trust and sponsor a free school or academy? Are there really no sponsors they can turn to? So they either don't know what to do, don't care or have made a silly political point.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 05:23


One more time - Francis' school was an Academy conversion. Coventry was trying to build two new schools. Completely different. Like many schools Francis' school had little option but to convert.

Can you please explain how you reach the conclusion that Coventry Council should create a trust and sponsor an Academy? You have either still not, or never have, grasped the fundamental issue that Gove has centralized schools and forbidden LAs from running them.

Given they are prevented from opening new primary schools, what logic are you applying in your desperate retort that the council don't know what to do, don't care or have made a silly political point? It is Gove who is preventing parents in Coventry from getting two new primaries, they cared enough to secure land and developers and are now trying to increase provision by expanding existing schools. It is Gove's stubborn ideology that has created this chaos and prevented new schools from being built.

Your irrational and ill informed attack on Coventry Council says an awful lot about how wild and nasty the vitriol against councils have been from the right-wing and Academy supporters like yourself. As your example reveals, it is based on ignorance and an excuse to push through a policy whose agenda is really for the Tories to gain absolute control to prepare them for privatization.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 12:17

They have a mechanism for opening new schools using academies. They don't have to like it but there is a way. They should be pragmatic and take the money like Francis. They can try and use a collaborative approach to such a school like LBHF did towards WLFS. So they either don't know how or lack the will.

It sounds like they may have fettered their discretion in refusing to open two new academies, unless they have actually considered using their powers and explained their reasoning properly. I hope if that they will reconsider, or of they have shown to have been inept then I hope the minister clobbers them and gets the schools opened.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 14:48

Ben -

Here is why your "way" can't work:-

1. You mention "Francis" again. Do you still not understand his was a school that was converted to an Academy? Ths example in Coventry is to do with NEW SCHOOLS. Central Government is NOT offering money to Coventry Council. That is the problem.

2. You mention a "collaborative" approach like WLFS and LBHF. That was a LONG time ago Ben. Since then LAs have been barred from overseeing Academies and Free Schools in their area. The "collaborative" approach should be coming from Gove but he has done everything in his power to cut schools adrift from the local authorities and local communities.

3. What "discretion" are you talking about? What "powers"? Have you not understood that LAs have no discretion or power over new Academies? How can they be shown to be inept when they are legally barred from opening schools that they maintain? If anyone needs clobbering it is Michael Gove for creaeting this mad situation where local authorities cannot open schools that they should be responsible for and he doesn't have Academy chains or Free School proposers doing it. They HAVE reconsidered - and are consulting now on how to expand provision in exsiting schools so cope with more primary school demand. In the meantime, Gove does nothing to ease a chronic situation.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 17:56

Check this out Allan


Detailed description of the procedures for establishing new schools which includes LA powers and duties including;

"6. Existing statutory requirements mean that local authorities, in their role as commissioners, must plan and secure sufficient schools for their area. Where a local authority identifies the need to establish a new school, new section 6A of EIA 2006 places the authority under a duty to seek proposals to establish an academy/Free School and to specify a date by which proposals must be submitted.

7. It will be for local authorities to decide how best to do this, how to consult on the proposed new school and with whom (e.g. local community, Diocese and any others affected by the proposals). They should be clear from their school place planning about the type (e.g. mainstream, special educational needs, alternative provision), age range, gender and capacity of the academy/Free School they wish to see established."

So plenty of potential to engage there. Are they consulting on new schools? Because that is what they should be doing, alongside any school expansion. Maybe they are going to be challenged legally since their decision seems unlawful.

Let's look at the statement reported in the Guardian 16 Oct 2012 of David Kershaw, cabinet member for education at Coventry city council;

“In an ideal world, we would like to have new schools to meet the needs of the high numbers of children that we have in the city. But we do not have that option.”

Well this is wrong since they secured sites and financial support from planning gain - they certainly had intention and partial means. The report is they only changed their minds when they discovered they must be academies or free schools and could not be maintained.

It looks like an unlawful decision which is politically motivated and causes potential problems for their electors. They should get done over in the courts, hopefully by a party that feels they should have been consulted and were not, or the minister should use any power he has to direct them.

Like Francis the council should learn some adaption to circumstances in order to get the cash even if they have to hold their nose.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 20:09

Ben –

I’m well aware of the stipulations of the 2011 Education Act but have you still not grasped that this argument isn’t about a local authority’s responsibilities in identifying need for new schools but the fact that they cannot maintain them nor can they maintain oversight over all the schools within their area?

What this legislation shows is how incompetent and lacking in foresight Gove and this coalition is. The speed with which he wants to leave his legacy in case the Tories are booted out of government in 2015 has led to ludicrous consequences like this, As I mentioned in my post about Coventry here
the law now effectively means schools are not opening in some areas because local authorities can’t use their powers to open one and there are no Academy chains or Free Schools zealots jumping at the chance. Even if the latter did, it would take years and then the chances are it would end up opening miles away from the original area of need and in a temporary building.

Gove’s expectation clearly was Councils would carry on planning new schools on the basis of their assessment of local need as they always did. But – and this is a BIG but – however naïve, misguided or confrontational the council’s decision is, it is understandable - why would a council bother to go through the expense of planning increases in capacity which would involve damaging their ability to plan for and oversee local supply? Gove’s own menacing behaviour over the past 18 months was always going to lead to confrontation. Had he been less autocratic and bullying and more collaborative and democratic, he might not now be guilty of doing little to solve the national crisis of primary schools places.

I thought you believed in “choice” Ben. This has been your mantra all along. You have said plenty of times elsewhere on this site that parents and communities should have choice and that such choice included community schools as well as Academies and grammars and private schools.

You are now advocating legal action because Coventry Council are shining a spotlight on Gove’s Academies-or-No-Schools-my-way-or-no-way stance , or to use your thuggish phrase “Done over in the courts”. What next – the death penalty?

You have never believed in widening choice at all have you? All along, what you supported was the authoritarian, undemocratic imposition of the ideology of one Education Minister. No wonder you could not give one single answer when challenged how Gove’s policies widened choice.

“Unlawful decision”? I don’t think neither you nor Michael Gove can afford to take the high ground here, legal or moral. Michael Gove’s decisions have led to a number of legal challenges, including one he lost after six councils won their legal challenge against the government over the cancelled Building Schools for the Future scheme.
Mr Justice Holman ruled in the High Court that the way the education secretary stopped the BSF projects was both ‘unfair’ and, ‘unlawful’. The impetus for this challenge echoes what Coventry Council are reacting against – Gove stopping new schools from being built.

And let’s not forget, Ben, Gove is happy to bend his own legislation when it suits his ideology. He last month intervened in a judicial review lodged in the High Court, in which the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) are bringing a case against Richmond Council who approved two Voluntary aided and highly selective Catholic Schools by failing to comply with the new legal requirement to seek bids for Free Schools when it believes the schools are needed. It is perhaps not surprising to see Michael Gove taking such direct action against his own Free School policy in a way that will increase discrimination in the state school system.

I hardly think Coventry Council deserve to be “done over”. Not with Gove’s record.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 21:27


Under circumstances the statute permits new maintained schools. One circumstance is no suitable academy or free school proposal. But Coventry have not even tried properly. I have shown have potentially they have not fulfilled their legal responsbility.
They could try learning from LBHF whch enabled 240 children (so far) to have a choice previously unavailable to them.

I do not think that Gove is immune from court actions and consequences if he as a minister does something unlawful.

I am not sure about the Richmond case since I think new voluntary aided schools are exempt from the requirement to seek academty/free school proposals first.

If Coventry really wanted to make some sort of effort to start a new maintained school as the first choice in exception to the normal statute, they could hold some sort of ballot of electors and present any majority as a bargaining chip. But no, they are simply foolish and petty.

Gove is not stopping the creation of two new schools in Coventry. That is a decision of the Coventry LA.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 21:54


Effort? This is the whole point. You seriously want an LA to make "efforts" which cost them time and money for Gove to hand the schools over to an Academy or simply refuse the establishment of a maintained school. I think the "effort" might be justified if there were enough examples where Gove has, indeed, allowed the opening of a maintained school.

Would you please let us know how many maintained schools have been given the green light under the new legislation to supprt your argument that it is worth the "effort"? And can you name them please? If you can't, my point is proven.

My experience is this. In Hackney, the Learning Trust went to consulation over a new school. We were given two choices - Academy or Free School. A significant number of people scrawled on the paper "Maintained school" because it wasn't given as a choice and, technically, at the time, the new legislation hadn't yet been passed limiting the choice to Academy/Free School. Hackney Council/Learning Trust knew they stood no chance of getting a maintained school through so, understandably, did not subject themselves to the "effort".

Coventry ARE making an effort to provide places - they plan to expand provision in existing schools. They are doing something for the community. Gove is stifling choice - just like you, he claims he is supporting parental choice. In reality, he is removing it. Breathtaking hypocrisy. I don't think you can ever play the "choice" card again Ben.

I suspect there is even worse to come. As the Free School programme is stalling so disastrously, Gove is going to have to ramp up the illusion that the policy is working and successful and he will do so by telling LAs that the communities they serve can have a Free School or nothing. Not even an Academy.

What can a future Labour government do? Everything practical and reasonable to bring some sanity to this coalition's madness and that includes allowing LAs to properly supervise the schools in their area.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 12:30

Free school opening rates

2011 - 24
2012 - 55
2013 - 85

Can you choose to define an annual increase as stalling?

Would a potential Labour government really close 164 grass roots schools?

The point about new maintained schools is that they are a reserve option after failing to find a sponsor for an academy free school. Yes I expect LAs to carry out their legal duties as much as a minister.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 12:56

At least 14 of the 55 free schools opened this September have significant spare capacity (first link below). Controversy surrounds many of them (second link below). It’s too early to say how many free schools will open in 2013 – even if they think they’ve got the go-ahead they may find the Government pulls the plug at the last minute (third and fourth link below). In 2012, primary free schools were provided in only four of the primary shortage hotspots (5 primaries in total) and extra secondary places (three schools in total) only appeared in three of the 20 LAs where forecasts showed that extra places would be needed (fifth link below).

So, free schools (some of which existed already as private schools) appear mainly in areas where extra places are not needed, but areas that do need places like Coventry have to engage in a time-wasting publicity exercise to attract an academy chain or a free school group who might consider opening a school.






Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 13:01


I wasn't referring to numbers. I am talking about the policy. Millions of pounds are to be spent on setting up and kitting out new schools that are simply not needed, are opening half empty, and in most cases, not wanted, by local communities. This is why it is in danger of being a failure and why Gove is putting pressure on ramping up numbers. In any case, the numbers you quote are not fixed. It will be interesting to see how many of these actually get the final green light and actually open.

Listen to the news and read the papers. Stephen Twigg has made it clear he isn't going to close schools. That is what Gove does.

You make no point at all Ben about maintained schools being a reserve option. Come back with some evidence of the number of maintained schools that are being opened instead of Academies and Free Schools under this new legislation. I don't know of any and I bet Coventry don't know of any either, so your defence really is a waste of time and effort, one that Coventry mercifully are not wasting energy on. To all intents and purposes new schools have to be Free Schools or Academies and you are deluded to think that the maintained school option is a real third option.

And you still cling on to the belief that the new reforms give parents and communities "choice"?

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 17:46

How can 85 schools have opened in 2013. We aren't even at the end of 2012 yet.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 13:05

Janet -

This is precisely why the Free School programme is failiing and why Michael Gove is so desperate to prop it up. Unlike Coventry Council, it seems he would rather waste time and effort on throwing away precious resources that affect as few children as possible.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 19:52

85 is what the DfE are reporting as due to open in 2013.

They are listed in a spreadsheet here;


It's updated sometimes. I got the figures dated 2 August 2012.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 19:20

Allan I am not trying to say that there are new maintained schools being created. There is a potential opportunity for that to happen if there are no suitable academy/free school proposals. The mechanism is open to Coventry to potentially arrive at that point but they have chosen to not to approach it.

In their case they have prospected two new schools which would be full and are needed if their planning is correct.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 19:29


I don't think you even know what you are trying to say now.

Let us have a list of maintained schools created, or will be created, instead of Free Schools or Academies. Then we can assess if this "mechanism" is viable. Why can't you provide this evidence? I think your inability or reluctance to do so pretty much proves that it's Academies or no schools. In which, Coventry have virtually no hope, so it is not reasonable for them to waste their efforts and resources driving up a dead end. This being the case, I think we are agreed that it really is Gove who is denying Coventry new schools.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 19:54

No, factually and in law there is a mechanism for creation of new schools which the council have chosen not to use.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 20:31


Post a list of maintained schools established in place of Academies then send it to Coventry. Prove your point. If you can't, it proves the futility of a council wasting effort and money pursuing a legal theory that stands no chance of becoming a reality when Gove has made it clear he has declared war on maintained schools. Post the evidence Ben.

John Medeiros's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 21:07

'Without exception, all the local authorities taking part in this research have recognised and sought to respond to the vision for a more autonomous and self-improving school system.

There is a clear commitment to enabling schools, irrespective of their status, to lead their own improvement and to look to schools themselves as the primary source of support and expertise.

Many local authorities are taking a pragmatic and positive approach to the change agenda and using this as a platform to exercise their local leadership role rather than resisting change, falling behind and then becoming irrelevant or isolated.

In many of the local authorities the increase in school autonomy seen over the last 18 months was viewed as the next stage in a much longer process of transition, rather than a very rapid transformation.

They felt that secondary schools in particular had enjoyed significant autonomy for some time and that becoming an academy simply reinforced and embedded this.

Larger local authorities, and those whose schools had a history of grant maintained status, were particularly of this view.

National expectations

Local authorities are to operate as the local champion of choice. In so doing they will:

• ensure an adequate supply of high-quality school places
• support those with the vision and energy to establish free schools, especially in areas of deprivation or where there is insufficient choice
• work with and/or seek out sponsors for academies or free schools required to meet
demographic need for additional places
• act as strategic commissioners when all schools have become academies.

In the case of establishing new schools the challenge is around the new skills needed at the authority level to act as an effective local commissioner. In particular the market-shaping role - to encourage proposals from providers that fit the local character and specific needs of children and the community - is something that is quite new to some local authorities.

In Warwickshire, for example, they have identified the need to open a new special school for Additional Learning Needs (principally Emotional, Behavioural and Social Disorders) in the north of the County.

As a new school this will be an academy and subject to competition. The authority acknowledges that conducting this competition effectively will require them to develop new knowledge and understanding of potential special school sponsors both nationally and locally, as well as refining their core commissioning skills.......

Where local authority services were of high quality they were valued by schools as providing a reliable, impartial and ethical service.

However increasing, as consumers, schools wanted to be able to exercise choice not just over the provider of services that they used, but also the individual delivering those services.

If local authorities could not provide this flexibility it was clear that more and more schools would look elsewhere for this support......'


'....all local authorities recognised that there had been a very real change in their
ability to carry out some of their statutory functions in that they no longer had the ability to direct schools in order to achieve particular outcomes at a system level.

In reality few local authorities said that they had needed to use their power to direct schools in the past, but they also recognised that the nature of the discussions they had with schools around issues such as in-year admissions and place planning, were influenced by the fact that they retained the power to direct schools as a last resort.'


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 28/10/2012 - 08:28

John - the final paragraph of your pasted quotation says, "In reality few local authorities said that they had needed to use their power to direct schools in the past."

According to the evidence that you have presented, local authorities made it clear that few of them had needed to use statutory powers to "direct schools". This makes nonsense of the frequently-made claim by the Government and its supporters than non-academy schools are under the heavy hand of local authority "control".

Thank you for pointing this out.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 28/10/2012 - 08:17

John - thank you for reminding us in this rather long cut-and-paste that "secondary schools in particular had enjoyed significant autonomy for some time and that becoming an academy simply reinforced and embedded this."

So, no real extra autonomy from academy status then - schools, particularly secondary schools, had had "significant autonomy for some time". This has been true since Local Management for Schools (LMS) was introduced (see faqs above for more info re autonomy).

Extra freedom was not the main reason cited by heads who responded to a survey asking them why their schools converted. The main reason was a perception of extra money.


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 30/10/2012 - 16:25

Janet is right , certainly from the point of view of Prince Henry's in Otley whose SMT stated from the start of the conversion process and associated protest that it was just about finance and the same services as before ( transport, admissions, SEN support etc) would still be retained from the LEA.

There are however the key facts that as an Academy the PAL can now be increased. and teachers employment rights changed not to mention the vulnerability of the school to the carpetbaggers , currently circling the smaller parent led free school applications.

So in answer to Melissa's original question ;

a) What will the Labour Party do to support but also reform where necessary LEA provision ?
b) what will they do to avoid profiteers and carpetbaggers ?
c) What powers will they provide to enable closer public scrutiny of admissions processes for individual schools.

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