Welsh Assembly

Welsh Assembly

Monday, 2 August 2010

(Published through online newpaper The Fresh Outlook: http://www.thefreshoutlook.com/index.php?action=newspaper&subaction=article&toDo=show&postID=2410)

Backlash of Academies Bill from MPs and Unions.
By Katie Murdoch.

The passing of the Academies Bill was rushed through parliament, according to Liberal Democrat MPs. Six MPs voted for an amendment to the Bill, calling for more deliberation with parents.

John Pugh, an MP who voted against the Bill said; “To change the status of a school without allowing the parents at the school a decisive voice is extraordinarily hard to justify."

The other Lib Dems who supported the amendment were Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and Poole N), Andrew George (St Ives), Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South), John Leech (Manchester Withington) and David Ward (Bradford E).

The Bill was passed by a majority of 92 MPs, with 317 votes to 225, but has received backlash from senior Labour and Lib Dem figures. Vernon Coaker, former Labour Minister of State for Schools and Learners also argued that the Bill should be amended to ensure that parents are consulted before a school chooses to become an academy. British trade union UNISON, has slammed the rushing of the Bill, calling it “reckless” and arguing that it will “cause chaos” in communities. The union conducted a survey which showed that only 4% of people want schools to be run by private companies.

The Fresh Outlook spoke to Paul O’Shea, UNISON Cymru/Wales Secretary. He told us:

“There is no evidence from existing academies that they raise standards. In fact, for more disadvantaged and vulnerable children, including those with special educational needs, there is a very real risk that the loss of local authority support around a whole range of special needs would hold back their achievements and inhibit their life chances.

“Furthermore, academy status could have very serious ramifications for their employees putting at risk important factors such as national pay and conditions for support staff, planning, preparation and assessment time, limits of working time – all factors which currently benefit the employee, but the education system as a whole.

“There is also a substantial amount of evidence which demonstrates that academies reduce and sometimes excludes the voice of both parents and staff from key-decision making affecting the whole school community, and so disenfranchises local communities – yet we’re expected to believe the Con-Dem’s “Big Society” rhetoric. This certainly does not feel very “Big Society” to our members.”

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education defended the Academies Bill, saying that he believes that the Bill will improve school examinations “so that they rank with the world's best.” He further argued that “less prescription in the curriculum, more rigour in our examinations” will improve education for children in schools.

Under the Bill, schools which have been ranked as "outstanding" by OFSTED will be pre-approved and eligible for a fast track conversion to an academy. Other schools will also be entitled, but will have to apply for academy status. Primary and special schools will be eligible to apply, allowing a primary, secondary and special school to operate within one academy federation structure. It is thought that current funding for schools will remain the same.

The Anti-Academies Alliance - an organisation supported by education unions, parents organisations and many MPs including Dr Ian Gibson, former Norwich North MP, has argued that the Bill will “dismantle” the school system.

The independent organisation said, “Academies are not covered by general education law which means that their students and parents have fewer rights than those of schools in the maintained sector. Academies should be brought under the umbrella of general education law and the recently published education and skills bill should be the vehicle used to achieve this.”

The backlash to the Bill has increased dramatically since Mr Gove used parliamentary measures usually used for national emergencies to rush through his Academies Bill. He has expressed that he intends the Bill to move forward ready for schools to apply for academy status in September. However, only around 35 schools have shown interest in becoming academies, a number far less than MrGove had expected.

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