MATs are 'like big corporations', says leading Tory

MP seeking re-election as Education Select Committee chair warns MATs have grown 'too big', while defending the record of free schools

Catherine Lough

Robert Halfon

Large multi-academy trusts (MATs) have become too corporate, the MP running for re-election as chair of the Commons Education Select Committee has suggested.

Robert Halfon also defended the record of free schools in an interview for Radio 4's Week in Westminster programme on Saturday.

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"I sometimes think multi-academy trusts have become too big – they have become like big corporations – but free schools are good, and we should be encouraging them," the Conservative MP for Harlow said.

But Mr Halfon defended free schools – implemented by the coalition government in 2010 – and said more of them needed to be set up in deprived areas.

"I think the vast majority of free schools have good results," he said.

"Of course, the flagship, the Michaela School [established by Katharine Birbalsingh in north-west London], has shown that if you have a school that is deeply rooted in the community in a deprived area, that is transforming in an incredible way the life chances of children – many of them from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

"And I want to see more of those kinds of schools up and down the country. We want schools deeply rooted in their community set up by parents, possibly linked to academies as long as they don’t become another part of the food chain in terms of big multi-academy trusts."

"I’d like to see Michaela Schools in every deprived area in the country."

Mr Halfon praised Michaela School in a response to comments by Lucy Powell, the Labour MP who also sat on the Education Select Committee before the election, and who appeared on the programme with him.

She said free schools' successes were often a "reflection of their cohort and not the quality of teaching and learning".

Mr Halfon's comment that free schools must be set up in deprived areas echoes recent remarks by Rachel Wolf, the founder of the New Schools Network, a charity that helps parents to set up free schools.

In a blog on the website Conservative Home, she said that too many free schools were in London, while other areas of the country – notably constituencies near the "red wall" that voted Tory recently for the first time – had not benefited from the scheme.

In the programme, Mr Halfon also referred to the need to prioritise "four S's" within education – skills, social justice, standards and support – and expressed his desire to help "white working-class" pupils who had been left behind in education and who consistently underperformed.

The first nominations for the Education Select Committee will be published tomorrow.

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