Labour would continue to allow good and outstanding schools to convert to academy status, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has said for the first time.
While he has previously said that a Labour government would allow local groups to set up new “parent-led academies”, he has not to date set out his position on converter academies.
In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, Mr Hunt provided more details on Labour’s plans – which he called a “much more value-neutral approach” than policies implemented by the Coalition.
“We want all schools to have the same kinds of freedoms that academies enjoy so there is a level playing field,” he said.
“In terms of schools wishing to convert, that should be up to them, but I am sceptical about the use of public funds in terms of some of the subsidies for the process.
“So when you look at the primary rates, and incentives being offered for conversion, is that a good use of money – when there is no direct correlation between single academy conversions and improvements in attainment?
“We need a rebalancing of interests but still allow schools to make that decision.”
However, he raised the prospect of subsidy cut for schools that do convert.
Mr Hunt also said that he wanted schools to be able to leave under-performing chains – which they cannot do at present.
Converter academies were introduced in the Coalition’s 2010 Academies Act, with schools deemed to be “performing well” allowed to move out of the maintained sector. Previously, the academies programme had focused on getting sponsors to take over schools that needed urgent turnaround.
Schools that do convert are eligible for additional funding, with a start-up grant of £25,000 provided to help with the costs of changing status.
Additionally, primary academies that set up multi-academy trusts of three or more schools can receive a one-off grant of £100,000, plus £10,000 per additional school.
Robert Hill, an education academic at King’s College London, said the change in Labour policy provided useful clarity, and would help to prevent schools from rushing to convert to academy status.
“This confirmation that Labour would not turn the clock back on academies is helpful.
“The clarity should stop a mad dash to convert in order to meet a pre-election deadline; it would be much better for schools to make reasoned decisions.
“But we do need to see what the broader landscape of policies from Labour is, particularly on primaries. Taking away incentives for primaries to convert in clusters could have the perverse impact of having primaries convert individually rather than as a federation.”
Hunt also said that he would be clarifying the party’s position in more detail over the next two months, particularly with regard to forced conversions and the role of academy brokers, with a greater emphasis on collaboration and partnership among schools.