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Autonomy for Schools

Volume 511: debated on Monday 7 June 2010

2. If he will publish each representation his Department has received from (a) head teachers and (b) associations representing head teachers in favour of greater autonomy for schools. (802)

My Department has received more than 1,100 expressions of interest from schools in relation to my offer to open up the academies programme to all primary, secondary and special schools.

I am grateful for that brief answer, but perhaps the Secretary of State will acknowledge, in these days of evidence-led policy, that there is limited evidence of schools demanding freedom from local authorities, as opposed to freedom from central Government tinkering. Also, the majority of schools targeted to become the new academies became “outstanding” schools within the local authority family. Finally, it is rather hard to become better than outstanding.

Evidence shows that academy freedoms have a key role to play in driving up standards, and that academy schools have improved their academic results at twice the rate of other schools as a result of using those freedoms. Moreover, the specific freedoms that an overwhelming number of head teachers wish to acquire will be used not only to improve the education of children in those schools, but to help other schools which desperately need freedom from local and central bureaucracy in order to drive up standards for all.

I believe that the principle of autonomy will be supported in schools throughout the country, but how would the Secretary of State balance it with the need for fairness in terms of funding and admissions? In particular, what role does he see for local authorities under the new regime?

The hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Minister for School Standards in the last Government. He will know that academies will have to abide by the admissions code, and that admissions will therefore be fair. He will also know that academies will not enjoy preferential funding, and that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that local authorities continue to play a strong strategic role. I was delighted to be able to write to the Local Government Association to affirm my commitment to working with it in order to achieve that.

I am sure the Secretary of State will know that there are some excellent schools in my constituency, but there is also a fast-growing need for more school places at both primary and secondary level. Does he agree that Toby Young’s excellent and well documented campaign for a new free academy school in Acton deserves the fullest support at all levels?

Thanks to my hon. Friend’s impassioned advocacy, I have been able to visit some of the superb schools in Ealing, and I know that they are currently led by a wonderful team of head teachers. I also know, however, that throughout west and south London there are increasing pressures on pupil numbers, and I therefore welcome expressions of interest from everyone who is dedicated to improving state education and creating new comprehensive school provision.

The gentleman whom my hon. Friend mentioned, Mr Toby Young, is one of the most fluent advocates of opening up the supply of state education. I note that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) said that he welcomed Mr Young’s proposal, and that he hoped to be present to open the school in due course. I hope to join him then.