Political climate ‘more worrying’ than ever for academies

Jonathan Simons says Labour government would have 'ways and ways' in which it could 'make things more difficult for the academies programme'

Will Hazell

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Academies and multi-academy trusts are facing the most hostile political climate since the birth of the programme, a policy expert has said.

Jonathan Simons, a former government adviser who now works for the Public First public affairs firm, said that he believed a Labour government would “make things more difficult for academies”, while the Conservative government “has no political capital” to defend them.

Mr Simons, a trustee at the Astrea MAT, was speaking at the Confederation of School Trusts spring conference in London yesterday. 

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Addressing the audience of academy leaders, he said: “We should recognise the political climate is perhaps more worrying for academies and MATs than it has been at almost any time since their inception.

“For all their political rhetoric, the Labour Party used to recognise that, actually, most academies in their constituencies are doing a good job, they are liked by parents, they are liked by pupils and they are actually happy for them to continue.”

He continued: “Now, I still believe that [shadow education secretary] Angela Rayner on a personal level believes that. I don’t think that were she to come into power as education secretary she would reverse the academisation programme.”

However, he said that “were a Jeremy Corbyn government with Angela Rayner as education secretary to come into being…I think it is more likely than it has been since they were first created under Tony Blair, that the academies programme will move backwards”.

“It’s certainly the case I think that there would be greater local government control on a MAT governing board, I think there would a series of additional rules and regulations that MATs will have to comply by, whether in governance or in finance or in reporting terms.

“I think it is a racing certainty that related-party transactions will not be allowed. I think it is highly likely that ‘failing’ academies may be forcibly removed not just from the academy and re-brokered to another academy, but potentially going back to the local authority.

“There are ways and ways in which a Labour government, should they wish to, could make things more difficult for the academies programme, without committing to a wholescale reversion.”

Mr Simons said the “government has no political capital to spend defending the academy programme”.

He said that academy leaders should try to defend their sector by cracking down on cases of “poor practice”.

“It is more incumbent on those who believe that MATs are a force for good in this sector, to be robust about incidents of poor practice,” he said.

Tes approached Labour for comment. The party pointed to Ms Rayner’s speech at last year’s Labour conference, in which she pledged to “bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control”.

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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