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Academies: Parent Involvement

Volume 612: debated on Monday 4 July 2016

3. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that parents have greater say in the running of their children’s schools when they become academies. (905610)

The White Paper set out our commitment to ensure that parents have a more significant voice in schools. We will build on existing effective practice in academies to strengthen the expectation that they will listen to the views and needs of parents. We will also launch a new parent portal, setting out key information that parents need to know about schools.

Parent governors play a vital role in schools across the country and in my constituency of Gillingham and Rainham. The excellent portfolio holder for children’s services in Medway, Councillor Mike O’Brien, asks the Minister to confirm that the parent governor role will continue under the Government’s new plans for academies.

I agree with my hon. Friend and the excellent Councillor Mike O’Brien, whom I know well and wish all the very best, that parents play a very important role in the governance of our schools. I fully expect that to continue as more schools become academies. High-quality governance is vital for the success of our schools, and boards need governors with the right skills to perform the role well. Many parents have the skills to make them effective governors, and boards will continue to appoint them as governors for that reason. There is nothing in the White Paper proposals to prevent academies from continuing to have elected parent governors if they wish to.

The Secretary of State sought to ban parents from becoming school governors. She has blocked Ofsted from inspecting academy chains, and she refuses to have any democratic oversight of regional school commissioners. In her final days in office, with school improvement stalled, according to the chief inspector, has she not realised that the command-and-control, “Whitehall knows best” approach to schools and education does not work?

This seems like an upside-down House: the Labour Front Benchers are on the Back Benches, and its Back Benchers are on the Front Bench. We intend to increase academy engagement with parents by creating an expectation that every academy will put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with parents and for listening to their views and feedback.

23. Will the Minister use this occasion to reassure parents of pupils at the Europa School in my constituency that they will still be able to play a part in the running of their school? (905631)

Yes, I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Of course they will. The Europa School provides an excellent education. Since it became a free school in 2012, it has been rated good by Ofsted, and it continues to provide a very high-quality education.

Parents in my constituency have been left feeling bewildered and angry after an academy order was issued for Sedgehill School but was withdrawn for six months because the regional schools commissioner could not find a sponsor. What does this uncertainty say about the state of the Government’s academy programme, and how can this uncertainty possibly be good for pupils?

What it says is that the regional schools commissioners are very selective about the sponsors that oversee our academies programme. That is why two thirds of secondary schools are now academies, one in five primary schools is now an academy and standards are rising faster in academies than in local authority schools.

I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), and her team for the work that they did with MPs from across the House to convince the Secretary of State that full-scale forced academisation is not right for our children or our communities. As glad as we are that the right hon. Lady was for turning, she still plans to convert schools into academies across vast swathes of our country. Will she now rethink her description of parents as “vested interests”, which added insult to injury?

May I correct the hon. Lady? Her predecessor was not the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell); it was the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), and I regret that she felt it necessary to resign. The academies programme is very successful, even without taking the powers that we had suggested. The programme is moving at pace—there were 200 academy conversions last month—and sponsored academies are improving faster under this arrangement. I hope that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) will support a programme that began under the Labour party, although it began under a new Labour Government, not this old Labour Opposition.