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Volume 511: debated on Monday 7 June 2010

6. What progress has been made on the academies programme in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (806)

There are currently 203 academies open in 83 local authorities. More academies will open in September, with numbers continuing to grow each year now that the programme has been opened up to all schools. For the academies with results in 2008 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths is 5 percentage points, an increase on last year’s academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points, which is double the national average.

Progress in opening academies under the last Government was extremely slow. Some 1,100 schools have applied for freedom from local authority interference, and freedom to set their own standards to ensure they demonstrate the highest possible quality. What comfort can the Minister give to ensure that those applications will all be honoured, and that those schools will not be dissatisfied?

I hope I can give my hon. Friend the comfort he seeks. Of the 1,100 schools that have applied, 626 are outstanding and we have said that we will provide them with a fast-tracking process. That should give him the comfort he seeks.

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and wish him well in it? He shadowed me on a number of occasions, and now I am shadowing him. However, is not the excellent progress made by academies in the past 12 months the result of the involvement in their development of parents and teachers and, as the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) said, of local authorities? Is placing such power in the hands of the Secretary of State not therefore a huge step backwards and a hugely centralising measure? Why are local decision making on the development of academies, parent power and devolution being replaced by centralisation and the exclusion of parents, local authorities and teachers from that process?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words; it is nice to be on the Government side of the House, instead of on the other side. However, this is not a centralising but a decentralising measure, beyond the local authority and down to the school level. This is about trusting professionals and having faith in the autonomy of schools. Our advice to schools is that it is important for them to discuss with parents and pupils their intention to convert. Existing legislation for setting up academies does not require such consultation with parents, so even when the hon. Gentleman was the Minister for Schools, there was no requirement for academies to consult parents.

I warmly welcome all the Ministers to their posts. May I ask a question both as a Member of Parliament and as the chair of governors of a Church of England primary school? Could the follow-up to the Secretary of State’s letter to outstanding schools such as ours include a letter to the chair of governors setting out the advantages and disadvantages of academy status to schools, and the advantages and disadvantages, if any, to local authorities and to diocesan boards of education?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course the advantages of academy status are very clear: this is about trusting professionals to run their schools without interference from politicians and bureaucrats, either locally or nationally. I am sure that all the people he refers to will be aware of that. In the last set that we have seen—that of 2009—the results of a third of all academies showed an increase of more than 15 percentage points compared with those of the schools they replaced, so the advantages of academy status are very clear.