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Academies Bill

Volume 513: debated on Monday 12 July 2010

17. What recent representations he has received on the provisions of the Academies Bill; and if he will make a statement. (6972)

Many schools have told us that they welcome the opportunity to acquire academy freedoms through our Bill. Officials and Ministers have had positive meetings so far with teaching unions, the Special Education Consortium, the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service. Alongside these representations, we have also had approaches from individual peers and MPs, which have been dealt with through correspondence and meetings with Ministers.

Why does the Secretary of State continue to call these schools academies? Under the old system, academies were a means of getting extra money from outside the system to children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds who were not doing well. Under the new system, academies are taking money from within the system away from poor and disadvantaged children and giving it to schools that are already doing very well. Why does he continue to call them academies?

I know that the hon. Gentleman served with distinction as a Minister in Tony Blair’s Government, and was then defenestrated when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) took over. He should be aware that Tony Blair made it clear, when he was Prime Minister, that academy freedoms should be extended to all schools. In that respect, we are simply carrying on the good work that was begun under the Prime Minister who was wise enough to have the hon. Gentleman on his Front Bench, rather than following the disastrous course that was taken by Gordon Brown and the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls).

I have here a press cutting in which a local head teacher in my constituency complains about his school appearing on the Department’s database as “interested in academy status”, when all that he had actually done was to ask for details of a sketchy scheme. He now says that the chances of his school wanting academy status are minimal and that people are “playing politics” with this. How could such things happen? Could it be that the demand for academy status is being overstated? Also, will the Secretary of State correct the database?

I have consistently made it clear that all those who have expressed interest have only ever expressed interest. I am delighted that so many have done so, but as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, our legislation is permissive, and it will be for schools to decide, rather than Ministers or bureaucrats. That will be a welcome change from the dirigiste methods that so scarred education under the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood.