Skip to main content

Primary Schools: Academies

Volume 635: debated on Monday 29 January 2018

Since 2010, the number of open academies and free schools has increased from 203 to almost 7,500. The numbers of primary schools converting to academies has grown significantly. As of the first day of the year, there were 4,592.

Herts for Learning is the only local authority-controlled multi-academy trust in the country. Records at Companies House demonstrate that the local authority has more than 25% of shares in it and is an organisation of significant control. It has been converting primary schools in my area since September. Will the Secretary of State clarify the Government’s position with regard to local authority-controlled multi-academy trusts?

Our position is that we limit local authority representation on academy trust boards to 19.9% to help maintain the independence of academies, while ensuring that boards can benefit from the right mix of skills and experience. I am of course very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss whatever concerns and wishes he may have.

May I welcome the new Secretary of State to his position? Since taking up office, has he had a chance to read and reflect on a letter that the Education Committee wrote to the Minister, Lord Agnew, following our evidence-hearing session with the Minister and the National Schools Commissioner about what we feel is a lack of oversight, accountability and, critically, transparency with regard to multi-academy trusts?

We have a framework in place around multi-academy trusts. Academies have been a fundamental part of the improvements that we have seen in schools. Multi-academy trusts, in turn, are a fundamental part of making sure that good practice can be spread more widely across the system. We have the good practice guidance that is published. There are audited accounts and various processes. Ultimately, as Secretary of State, I am accountable to Parliament for the performance of the schools system. In turn, the regional schools commissioners are accountable to me.

Will my right hon. Friend, in promoting multi-academy trusts, also show the role that secondary schools can have in leading primary schools that become part of those trusts? That is very important for people attending primary schools and then going on to the secondary school in due course.

My right hon. Friend, with his great experience, makes a very important point. The different phases of education, working together, can share a great deal of expertise.

All the focus on structures is taking us away from the real issue, which is that this weekend even Tory party donors and academy chain heads were talking about real-terms cuts to funding. That is what I am seeing in the schools in my constituency. Will the Government face up to the real crisis, which is the real-terms cut in school funding?

There is more money going into our schools in this country than ever before. We know that real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system, and with the national funding formula, each school will see at least a small cash increase. [Official Report, 5 March 2018, Vol. 637, c. 2MC.]