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Phil Reynolds

Politics and academies: 2020 vision or myopia?

Phil Reynolds asks if the academy programme will turn full circle

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 24, 2015 | People, policy, politics

“Academies are here to stay!” was the cry from the West Midlands Regional School Commissioner, Pank Patel, when Kreston Reeves attended the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) Academy Auditor Workshop in Birmingham recently. With the new Education Bill due to be passed - and with it the introduction of the ‘coasting schools’ definition – it’s fair to say that Mr Patel could be proven right by the end of this parliament. 

However, is this expectation that all schools will be academies or free schools now at risk following the election of Jeremy Corbyn MP as the new leader of the Labour party? Firstly, Mr Corbyn needs to convince Labour supporters that he is the man to lead this country. Winning the Labour Party election by 59% (more than Tony Blair!) was indeed a good start but many remain to be convinced that he is the man for the job. But should Mr Corbyn win over the doubters in time for the next General Election in five years’ time and Labour take back control of the UK, what would the impact be on this expectation that all schools would have become free schools or academies by 2020? 

In an interview earlier this year, Jeremy Corbyn MP made it clear that he does not support the principles of academies and free schools. “I would want to bring them all back into the Local Authority orbit”. So there is the risk that we could turn full circle. Particularly when Mr Corbyn believes that the Secretary of State “cannot possibly keep their eye on the ball of every school in the country”: He thinks the responsibility needs to be given back to the Local Authorities and to allow them to build new schools to meet the need for more places. However, it could be argued by the Conservatives that the Regional School Commissioners are there to do just that for the Secretary of State! 

In addition, how much would it cost any government to close down every academy trust that has been formed in the past decade or so? The legal costs would no doubt be astronomical and surely the argument from many would be that this would be a “waste of money” - money which would be better spent on improving the country’s educational attainment. However, Mr Corbyn’s argument might be that by giving schools back to Local Authorities it will allow schools to reduce the impact of money leaving the education sector – for example the audit and legal fees being expended by academy trusts.

It is also likely the new leader of the Labour Party will gain some support from the teachers around the country - telling Nicky Morgan “we are expecting too much from teachers which is affecting their mental and physical health”. He would much rather see smaller class sizes and more time for teachers to prepare for lessons. 

During the election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn MP will be supported by the new shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell MP. But will she support Mr Corbyn’s entire education manifesto and stance of scrapping all academies and free schools? She rather candidly responded that she would be leading the development of policy in the area – “Jeremy and I agree on our commitment to excellence in state education, raising aspirations for all children and to an accountable, managed system which has local oversight.” – but they all say that don’t they? It is perhaps the fact she has outlined a commitment to “local oversight” which draws parallels with her new leader’s views. 

What do you think? Is the academy and free school programme for turning? Whatever happens between now and five years’ time, it is safe to say that the education sector will continue to be one of the most talked about in this country. 

Phil Reynolds is Audit and Assurance Manager and Academies and Education specialist at Kreston Reeves LLP.    

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