Labour fleshes out schools policy with promise of ‘ambitious’ new laws

Shadow schools minister suggests council remit over exclusions, will look at growing MAT reserves and wants curriculum freedoms reversed

Shadow schools minister suggests council remit over exclusions, will look at growing MAT reserves and wants curriculum freedoms reversed


A new Labour government would plan to bring in “ambitious” new schools legislation “early on” to address its concerns around academy accountability, the shadow schools minister has said.

Speaking to Schools Week at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Stephen Morgan said attempts to amend the current government’s schools bill to force academies to follow the national curriculum and local admissions arrangements showed the party’s “direction of travel”.

Earlier this year, Labour also attempted to change the landmark legislation to create new standards for academies on complaints procedures, inclusion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and how land and premises are disposed-of.

But with the schools bill now on ice amid a review of government policy by new prime minister Liz Truss, Morgan accepted Labour in power would need to bring in its own legislation to achieve its goals.

“I think we would want to bring forward a really ambitious education bill early on in an incoming Labour government,” he said.

Morgan and his colleagues have said they will focus on “improving outcomes, not meddling with structures” if they win power, but have not set out concrete plans for the school system.

Labour has confirmed it will not support forced academisation, but has also pledged to leave well-performing academy trusts alone, suggesting a hybrid model of academies and local authority maintained schools will be here to stay under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

And while the government continues to favour all schools being in multi-academy trusts, Morgan says Labour will protect the right of single-academy trusts to continue to stand alone.

MAT inspections and curriculum freedoms reversed

But despite an acceptance academies are here to stay, Morgan insists the party is “not saying that academies are perfect”.

“We want to make sure the national curriculum is taught in in all schools. There are governance mechanisms and accountability arrangements that we want to see change. We want to see Ofsted inspecting multi-academy trusts.”

Morgan is also keen to further “explore” a potential greater role for local authorities over things like school admissions, and exclusions, amid concerns about the lack of an effective middle tier in education between central government and schools.

He added the party wanted to “make sure that reserves are proportionate for schools”.

Official data published earlier this year showed academy trust coffers swelled by more than a quarter last year, with the sector’s total financial reserves surging to nearly £4 billion after the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is non-committal on whether Labour would claw back and redistribute reserves deemed not to be proportionate, but said the party was thinking through “a range of different options to ensure that we’ve got a robust accountability framework for future”.

However, he also said he was “conscious the amount of cost pressures that are now being placed on schools and the way that the government have fudged announcements with regards to funding any increase in energy costs”.

Schools should have ‘resources they need’, but no plan

Morgan also ducks questions about whether Labour will guarantee an inflation-related increase in school funding. He says they will ensure schools have the “resources they need”, but further detail will come closer to the election.

But he is scathing about rumours the government will attempt to lift the ban on new grammar schools, which follows a pledge to do so from Truss during her leadership campaign.

“We don’t think there will be a vote,” he said, adding the obsession with selection in the Conservative Party was “totally bizarre”.

“Is this all they care about? This sort of issue that I think divides our country and creates a culture war?”

And while Labour has refused to confirm how its MPs would be whipped in any vote on grammar schools, perhaps unsurprisingly, Morgan is clear that he would vote no.

“Frankly, all the evidence that I’ve seen suggests that grammar schools don’t deliver the outcomes that I would want to see. And they’re not popular amongst parents. I will always be evidence based in terms of the policy making that I make. So it’s a no from me.”

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