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Volume 507: debated on Monday 8 March 2010

12. What his latest assessment is of progress on the academies programme; and if he will make a statement. (320687)

There are now 203 academies open in 83 local authorities, with up to a further 100 opening in 2010. Evidence from independent reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ofsted and the National Audit Office shows that academies are working. For academies with results in 2008 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A* GCSEs, including English and maths, is 5 percentage points, an increase on last year’s academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points.

What assurances will the Government give to existing academy leaders that the freedoms that their schools initially enjoyed will not be further watered down?

The academies programme is an important part of the school reform programme that this Government have introduced, but academies are not independent schools within the state sector. They have certain freedoms, but they have to collaborate with other schools—and that is one of the changes that we have made. They have academic freedom and curricular freedom, as well as freedom with respect to their staff, but we do not want to see academies totally cast adrift and allowed to do whatever they want within the state system. They are an important part of our school reform programme, and that is how they will stay.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in Stoke-on-Trent the proposals for the 2020 academy have met with great concern from the local communities, who want to see it built on the fields alongside Longton high and for the Mitchell school to be kept open, serving those communities. Will my hon. Friend confirm that if Stoke-on-Trent city council wished to listen to the people of their communities and do that, it could do so—even though it is a Conservative council?

It may be of interest to the House to learn that I have had a meeting with my hon. Friend and local people about this matter in his constituency. The important point is that of course it is a matter for local authorities to determine the best way to organise schools in their area, and they can change, listen and adapt programmes, although they have to take account of other considerations. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased to join me in welcoming the investment of £250 million into Stoke’s schools that we are making through Building Schools for the Future.

We do not want most schools to become academies, because we believe that local people and local authorities should determine the best mix of secondary school provision in their areas. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that not only will he have to persuade me of his argument, but he will have to persuade a number of Tory local councils, up and down the country, which do not believe that simply saying that academies are the right solution for every secondary school is the right way forward. They agree with us that academies are sometimes the right answer, but that sometimes the answer is maintaining a school as a local authority school, while sometimes the answer is setting up a national challenge trust. Rather than being ideologically dogmatic, let us see what works and introduce it in a local area.