Leeds council leader blasts schools reform plan dubbed as effort to ‘privatise our education system’

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The leader of Leeds City Council has blasted educational reform proposals which she said “will effectively force schools into becoming academies, often against their wishes”.

The Government has already been accused of “undoing 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke” with its plans to turn every school in England into an academy.

It has been proposed that all mainstream schools will be converted to academies that are independent of local authority control, with draft legislation likely to be published in days.

The move follows proposals outlined by Prime Minister David Cameron in the autumn to remove the education system from the hands of “bureaucrats” and give power to headteachers and teachers.

The radical change would bring to an end the responsibility for education lying with local authorities.

But union bosses have said teachers will resist the Government’s efforts to “privatise our education system”,

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds council, said: “It simply makes no sense to portray councils as barriers to school improvement.

“Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has recently strongly criticised the academy programme and highlighted the serious failing of England’s largest academy chains, which were intended to replace the role of local authorities.

“In Leeds, we have put children and young people firmly at the heart of the growth strategy of the city, and the quality of their education is central to this.

“We currently have 93 per cent of local authority maintained schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which compares to 76 per cent of academies in the city. We want to continue working collaboratively with our learning community and build on this strong performance still further.

“We will be engaging with head teachers and school leaders across the city to look together at the implications of these reforms for individual schools, groups of schools and the city as a whole, and support them as they make important decisions about their future.

“In particular we will examine the impact that the reforms will have on our most vulnerable children and young people.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has accused the Government of “arrogance” and said the plans would take away support offered by councils and create schools that are run by academy trusts, “unaccountable to parents, staff or local communities”.

NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Parents will be as outraged as teachers that the Government can undo over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke.

“Only last week Her Majesty’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out to Government the serious consequences for children’s education of schools being run by multi-academy trusts.

“But this arrogant Government is choosing to ignore the evidence from the HMCI, the Education Select Committee and the Sutton Trust’s own Chain Effects report, which clearly demonstrates that academy status not only does not result in higher attainment but that many chains are badly failing their pupils, particularly their disadvantaged pupils.”

Mr Courtney said the NUT would resist the Government’s efforts to “privatise our education system”, adding: “The most urgent problems in schools are to do with the chronic teacher shortage, real terms funding cuts, the school places crisis, chaotic implementation of the curriculum, and workload going through the roof.

“The drive towards total academisation will do absolutely nothing to fix those problems.”

Turning schools into academies would spell the end of the national curriculum and pay regulations for teachers, as academy schools are exempt from both.

The plans come in the wake of a report by the Policy Exchange think tank, which proposed the conversion of all primary schools into academies and then asked each to join an academy “chain” within the next four years.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is expected to give more details on the plans when she addresses the Commons on Thursday.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said that with eight out of 10 maintained schools rated as “good” or “outstanding” by regulator Ofsted, it “defies reason that councils are being portrayed as barriers to improvement”.

It called for the Government to concentrate on the quality of education, rather than “the legal status of a school”.

Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Forcing schools to become academies strips parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice.

“We have serious concerns that Regional Schools Commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools.

“The LGA opposes both forced academisation, and giving significant powers relating to education to unelected civil servants with parents and residents unable to hold them to account at the ballot box.”

Highlighting the estimated £1 billion of additional funding spent on the academies programme in 2012, he added: “With mixed evidence about academisation improving standards, and when public spending is facing significant cuts, imposing academisation on schools regardless of local opinion cannot be an appropriate use of public money.”

The Association of School and College Leaders said the proposals would need adequate resources.

Interim general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “Whatever the type of school, two of the essential ingredients for success are sufficient funding and teacher supply. Unfortunately, schools currently face real-terms cuts and a recruitment crisis.

“The Government must ensure its vision for full academisation is backed up by the resources that schools and young people need.”

The Treasury and Department for Education declined to comment.