Academies, Politics

Labour plans to curtail academy freedoms in schools bill amendment

Opposition seizes on government infighting - finally revealing its own plans for academies

Opposition seizes on government infighting - finally revealing its own plans for academies

Labour will seek to amend the government’s schools bill to strip away some of the freedoms currently afforded to academies.

The party has tabled an amendment to the legislation to create standards that would require academies to follow the national curriculum, follow local admissions policies and prevent them from hiring unqualified teachers.

Even if the amendment passes in the Lords it is unlikely to survive when the House of Commons considers the bill because of the size of the Conservative majority.

However, the move does offer a glimpse at the party’s approach to academies, something it has remained fairly quiet on for several years.

Ministers were recently forced to go back to the drawing board with the first 18 clauses of their schools bill, following criticism of what some peers described as a Whitehall “power grab”.

The bill in its previous form only gave examples of areas on which a future education secretary could set standards for schools. Labour’s amendment would make setting them a requirement, and include an exhaustive list.

Under Labour’s plan, standards would apply to academy complaints procedures, inclusion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and how land and premises are disposed-of.

Labour says plan will ‘drive up standards’

The party said it was “seizing the initiative as the government splinters into infighting over the Conservative leadership contest” and after Nadhim Zahawi was “forced to abandon the government’s plans for central control over academies in the face of opposition from all parties”.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said her plans would “drive-up standards across all schools and set minimum standards regardless of the type of school a child attends. 

“The Conservatives will have the chance to support these plans to improve outcomes for children. As their chaotic U-turn showed, even before their bitter infighting the Conservatives had no plan, no ambition and no vision: they are failing our children.”

Since Sir Keir Starmer was elected as Labour leader in April 2020, the party has kept fairly quiet about what it will do about academies if it wins the next election.

This is despite Starmer saying in a Q&A with Schools Week that he wanted schools to be “democratically accountable to their local communities, not to politicians in London”.

Shadow education ministers have said they won’t “meddle” in successful schools, but more recently the party’s education team has declined to say whether it will continue with plans to move all schools into trusts.

Starmer would tax private school fees

It comes after Starmer re-announced plans to remove private schools’ charitable status, which Labour says will raise £1.7 billion in VAT and business rates.

Removing this exemption would mean charging VAT on fees for parents too, Labour confirmed.

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said parents’ right to make choices over education “should not be undermined by a tax on aspiration”.

The move would “threaten the survival of the smallest independent schools… Most have fewer than 400 pupils on roll, and these small schools, serving their local communities, would be at risk of closure.”

She pointed to research which suggested the government would end up paying £400 million more in the fifth year of such a policy, based on independent schools closing and more children moving into the state sector.

The schools bill is due to start its report stage in the House of Lords tomorrow.

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