Education 'revolution' is hailed by peers


Peers from a cross-section of parties have hailed the government's support for academies and free schools.

A debate on the subject on 4 February 2013 was led by Baroness Perry of Southwark, a Conservative peer and former chief inspector of schools in England.

Baroness Perry called the advent of academies "the most important revolution in education for decades" and one that provides "interesting and challenging forms of learning", especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"No-one who truly cares about children and young people can fail to celebrate the life-changing opportunities free schools and academies have given to young people," she said.

Conservative former Education Secretary Lord Baker of Dorking praised the success of university technical colleges, which he said helped to "engage people at a local level".

Lib Dem Lord Storey made the point that, in academies and free schools, "it is the quality of school management and teaching that makes the difference - schools supporting and learning from each other".

The Bishop of Bath and Wells sounded a note of caution, saying there was "a risk of diverting attention" away from local authority schools.

Shadow education spokesperson Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said that "we share a common goal of driving up standards" but that Labour was "worried about a lack of emphasis on the power of partnership and collaboration".

Lady Jones added teachers were often "demoralised and criticised" when schools were taken over, and parents were struggling with "complex" admissions systems.

Education Minister Lord Nash, a venture capitalist and academy school sponsor, wound up the debate with a maiden speech that dwelt on his experience of taking over Pimlico Academy in London.

"Our children and young people are capable of far more than we have hitherto asked of them," he told the House. "Sponsors of free schools challenge traditional thinking and hold no truck with a culture of low expectations."

Academies were first set up under Tony Blair's Labour government, with the aim of raising standards in under-performing schools in disadvantaged areas.

The coalition government extended the programme in 2010 and all primary and secondary schools are now invited to convert to academy status, but priority is given to those deemed by watchdog Ofsted to be "outstanding" or "performing well".

According to Department for Education figures there are 2,619 open academies and 2,388 free schools in the UK.

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