Government 'heavy handed' over academy school policy

Lancashire schools are being cajoled by the government to become academies, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) says.

Officials have offered primary schools up to £40,000 plus £25,000 to cover legal fees to change to academies.

And Tony Roberts, of the NAHT, claims the officials have adopted "pretty heavy-handed" tactics.

The Department for Education (DfE) said such a move had "turned around hundreds of struggling schools" in the UK.

Grants have been available since 2010 for schools becoming academies.

'Silver bullet'

Tony Roberts secretary of the Lancashire branch of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the DfE has been trying to persuade "a cluster of schools last week" into becoming an academy with "pretty heavy handed" tactics by offering up to £40,000 inducements.

"Lancashire is under threat by the DfE because the number of primary schools is extremely low with only four academies out of the county's 484 primary schools," he said.

"The DfE is going round the schools trying to cajole schools into becoming an academy.

Mr Roberts accepted that he had no problem with the principle of a school becoming an academy.

"That is the school's decision to do what is best for them," he said

"[But the DfE] are claiming it is the greatest thing since sliced bread and for some schools it is very successful but it is not a silver bullet for schools who have problems."

'First-class education'

A DfE spokesperson confirmed officials were in discussions with local authorities about schools with a "history of underperformance".

"We cannot stand by and watch when a school is repeatedly failing children," he said.

"We have to step in and take decisive action so pupils get the first-class education they deserve.

"Academy sponsors have already turned around hundreds of struggling schools across the country and academy results are improving at five times the national average."

Schools commissioner Dr Liz Sidwell said last July, that 32 Lancashire primary schools might have to become academies unless they improved.

In a letter to local MPs, Education Minister Michael Gove said standards in Lancashire's primary schools are not good enough and the "best way to drive school improvement" was for them to become academies.

However, Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver rejected the claim the schools are sub-standard.

He said: "[In 2011], 69% of schools in Lancashire improved compared to the national average of 29%.

"Our schools are doing a marvellous job and improving standards all the time."

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