Nicky Morgan has publicly called on members of the House of Lords to back government moves to bring in new powers to intervene in underperforming schools.
The education secretary says that the Education and Adoption Bill, which is nearing its final stages, will “hand freedom to teachers”. But the NUT teaching union has rebutted the claim, saying the amendments will prevent teachers having a say in their local schools – and that the government is clearly “rattled” by the opposition.
The bill will mean that any school with an inadequate rating from Ofsted will automatically be converted into an academy, while schools classed as “coasting” will also be eligible for intervention.
The House of Lords is due to debate this afternoon whether to support the government's wish to remove formal consulations during the academy conversion process.
But the bill could be the subject of another stand-off between the government and the House of Lords, as Labour and Lib Dem peers are expected to try to ensure that parents and staff are consulted on whether to academise a school. Earlier this year, the House of Lords delayed government plans to cut tax credits. George Osborne, the chancellor, later scrapped the planned cuts.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, Ms Morgan has said that action to block the move will mean leaving children “stuck in failing schools, unable to fulfil their potential, while bureaucracy and unnecessary debate prevents excellent school leaders from intervening and turning their lives around”.
And Lord Nash, education minister, has also written to peers ahead of the debate saying that "some noble lords are seeking to undermine our commitment to tackling failure swiftly and consistently by reintroducing a formal, prescriptive consultation on whether a failing school should become a sponsored academy". He argues that it can take more than a year to convert a failing school into an academy and it is critical that swift action is "no longer delayed" by the consultation process.
But the NUT described the bill as “illiberal and undemocratic”.
Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “The NUT commends those members of the House of Lords who today intend to stand up for parents, teachers and communities and defend their right to have a say in their local schools and the future of their local education service.
“Instead of driving all schools down the academy and free school route, the government should be working with local authorities to ensure all parents have a school place for their child and all schools have enough teachers. Instead, this bill will further undermine the ability of councils to tackle these problems by removing more schools from local authority oversight.”