In a change of tone to her predecessor, Michael Gove, education secretary Nicky Morgan (pictured) this week announced that she was not looking to academise all schools and was categorically against for-profit schools.
In Wednesday’s final education select committee session on academies and free school, Ms Morgan was asked by chair Graham Stuart to describe her vision for the English school system.
She said: “My vision for the future is as we have now but to build on it.”
She also wanted “a high quality teaching workforce who are dedicated and hardworking” and “the best for all children, who are at the heart of the education sector”.
After Mr Stuart suggested this was a different tone to Mr Gove, Ms Morgan said: “Really? I don’t think so. Well perhaps I put it in different language, but I think we are all on the same page.”
Mr Stuart continued: “I can’t imagine asking your predecessor that question and the word academies not being used.”
Asked her view of how many schools she would like to see become academies, Ms Morgan said: “I am a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ politician and I like people to be persuaded of the case for conversion rather than me sitting in Whitehall setting either targets or compulsion.”
On the question of schools making profit, Ms Morgan also differed from Mr Gove.
In response to a question by Labour MP Alex Cunningham, Ms Morgan said: “I don’t think I can be any clearer. I don’t think that schools should be run for profit.”
The committee questioned Ms Morgan on a number of other pressing policy areas, including school place planning, teacher supply and incentives to encourage cross-school collaboration. In all cases, the education secretary confirmed that officials were addressing matters and that trusting the profession to deal with problems was the route to success.
When asked what “carrots” she would give to ensure that schools listened to parents’ complaints, Ms Morgan replied: “I would go back to trusting in the professionalism of the heads and teachers in the system”, adding that she believed in “the power of individuals” over government intervention.
The committee also asked Ms Morgan about Ofsted’s powers to inspect the groups who operate multiple academies. Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw had previously written to Ms Morgan stating that he did not have the power to inspect and report on the “overall effectiveness” of a multi-academy trust.
In committee Ms Morgan said she disagreed with Sir Michael, claiming: “[They] have the powers to inspect the support that a sponsor is giving to the schools within its chain. I am not in the business of producing more legislation to do something that the inspectorate can already do.”
Committee chair Graham Stuart asked that Ms Morgan write to Sir Michael to clarify the situation.