Education & Family

Teachers claim wide opposition to forced academy plan

Image caption Teachers' unions say making all schools academies is the wrong priority for education ministers

The government could be forced to retreat on plans to compel every school in England to become an academy because of an emerging broad-based opposition, the National Union of Teachers claims.

The union's leader Christine Blower said there could be a rapid reversal, as happened with disability payments.

The NUT's conference is to vote on industrial action against the plans.

But Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has told another union there is no "reverse gear" on the reforms.

"I want to be clear, there will be no pulling back," the education secretary told the NASUWT teachers' union, which is also holding its annual conference this weekend.

The NUT conference in Brighton on Saturday will debate calls for a wide-ranging campaign against compulsory academy status, including the threat of a one-day strike in the summer term.

Ms Blower, the union's general secretary, said that doubts about the academy plan stretched across the political spectrum.

"Sometimes the government gets it spectacularly wrong," she said. "There is very wide and deep opposition."

A number of Conservative party representatives in local government have spoken out against the plans which would remove the role of local councils and put all schools in the hands of academy chains.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron sent a message to the teachers' conference saying the compulsory academy plan is "worse than misguided - it is downright harmful. It will be a costly and disruptive process for thousands of schools".

John Howson, an expert on teacher recruitment and a Liberal Democrat, has urged faith groups to oppose the changes, arguing that they represent a "nationalisation" of local schools.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the NUT conference on Friday and called for the academy plans to be abandoned, accusing them of being "asset stripping".

Roy Perry, representing the Local Government Association, has warned: "Forcing schools to become academies strips parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice."

'Evidence free'

The NUT conference will hear calls for industrial action in opposition to the changes, which union leaders say could threaten teachers' pay and job security, as such decisions about pay and conditions would be decided by academy chains.

They accuse the plans of being undemocratic and "evidence free".

The union's deputy leader, Kevin Courtney, described it as a non-manifesto policy which had been "written on the back of a fag packet".

The union has written to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan calling on her to provide evidence that academies were likely to improve more rapidly than local authority schools.

The NUT also challenges the idea that academies are more autonomous, arguing that individual schools will lose their identity and independence once absorbed into academy chains, which would not need to have parent governors.

Mr Courtney said the impact would be to "drive the public out of decision making".

The scale of the changes would be the biggest overhaul of England's education system for generations, he said, but argued that there was no convincing evidence to justify it.

Image caption The Conservative government says academies empower head teachers

A spokesman for the Conservative party said the proposed reforms would accelerate a process of improving schools.

"However, there is still more to do to ensure consistent world-class teaching across the country.

"We are creating a dynamic school-led system where parents have a more significant voice in schools and play an active role in their child's education.

"To drive up standards we will encourage more schools to work together in multi-academy trusts so they share resources, staff and expertise.

"The crucial change is that under the academies system, strong schools and leaders are able to spread their influence, and those which are struggling get the help they need more swiftly.

"It is a system with parents and children at its heart, and will ensure no area is left behind."

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