Michael Gove: Academy school critics 'happy with failure'

Michael Gove: "The academies programme is not about ideology, it's a practical solution"

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has accused those who oppose his academies programme of being "happy with failure".

Mr Gove wants more schools in England to become academies, which are state-funded but semi-independent and outside local authority control.

In a speech in London, he said some of those who opposed the academies programme were "enemies of promise".

A union leader has described the comment as an "insult" to teachers.

Head teachers say academy conversion does not raise standards in itself.

Up to 200 schools are being told they have to become academies because they are not meeting government standards.

In a speech at an academy in London, Mr Gove said while most local authorities were "being co-operative" about their schools making this change, some were "being obstructive".

Under the academy programme, the influence of local authorities over schools is reduced.

Critics - such as Labour opponents and the teaching unions - say the programme will lead to a fragmented system with little local accountability.

The government says it cuts bureaucracy, frees head teachers and will improve standards.

Mr Gove said: "The same ideologues who are happy with failure - the enemies of promise - also say you can't get the same results in the inner cities as the leafy suburbs so it's wrong to stigmatise these schools.

"Let's be clear what these people mean. Let's hold their prejudices up to the light. What are they saying?

"If you're poor, if you're Turkish, if you're Somali, then we don't expect you to succeed. You will always be second class and it's no surprise your schools are second class.

"I utterly reject that attitude."

'Forced conversions'

There has recently been an outcry in the London borough of Haringey over moves to make some schools become academies.

Downhills Primary in Tottenham, north London, faces being made an academy by 2013, but the head and some parents are campaigning for it to remain a community school, more closely linked with the local authority.

Ofsted gave the school 12 months to improve its performance earlier this year.

The government has said it wants England's 200 worst-performing schools to become sponsored academies next year, meaning that they will have a sponsor - usually a top-performing academy school or a group already running other academies.

Start Quote

They are not the "enemies of promise" but professionals dedicated to improving the lives of young people”

End Quote Brian Lightman ASCL

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The assertion that the opponents of the government's forced academy programme are 'happy with failure' is an insult to all the hard-working and dedicated teachers, school leaders, support staff and governors in our schools.

"If academy status brought the benefits claimed by the government why have so few of England's schools opted to convert?

"The forced academy programme is about bullying schools into academy status against the wishes of school communities and their local authorities who are best placed to judge what support any particular school may need, not an external sponsor with an eye to the future profits to be made out of the government's programme of privatising England's schools."

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is not the act of academy conversion which raises standards in schools and ASCL strongly refutes the suggestion that all those who have not opted for conversion are 'ideologues who are happy with failure'.

"There are many highly successful schools working with their local authority and partner schools; they are not the "enemies of promise" but professionals dedicated to improving the lives of young people.

"The keys to school improvement are excellent teaching and leadership and a relentless determination to stamp out failure."

Figures just released show there are now 1,529 academies open in England, compared with 200 when the coalition came to power in May 2010. Most are secondary schools.

There are about 20,000 schools in England. The government says 45% of secondary schools are either now academies or are in the process of becoming one.

Under Labour, the programme was mainly aimed at turning around struggling schools but the coalition wants it to be for all schools.

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