Education secretary Nicky Morgan appeared in front of the Commons education select committee on Wednesday for the first time since her department published its White Paper Education, Excellence, Everywhere. The document will set in motion hugely controversial plans to convert every school into an academy by 2022. This is what Ms Morgan said:
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Just hours after David Cameron ruled out any possible U-turn over plans to convert every school into an academy during prime minister’s questions, Ms Morgan spelled out her intention to see through the controversial proposals. Responding to questions, the education secretary said “it is absolutely the government’s commitment to have all schools as academies by 2022”.
The cost of conversion
Ms Morgan said the cost of “getting to the place where all schools are academies” would be £500m. The politician said the average cost for converting to academy status was coming down, and would continue to drop as more schools become academies.
Labour MP Ian Austin took Ms Morgan to task, demanding to know why the Conservatives had neglected to put its plans to convert every school into an academy into its election manifesto. The documents stated the party’s intentions to convert “inadequate” and “coasting” schools but not every school. “You have absolutely no mandate for this,” Mr Austin said. Ms Morgan was unable to give a straight answer.
Academies and the national curriculum
One of the central freedoms available to academies is the ability to set their own curriculum. But Ms Morgan believes that, in her experience, academies teach “over and above” the national curriculum, “they use it as a minimum”, she added.
No recruitment crisis
The education secretary stuck to the government’s line that schools are not in the midst of a teacher recruitment crisis. The difficulties that headteachers are facing when it comes to hiring teachers are merely “challenging”. Ms Morgan said the country will “always want more teachers” but claimed that some areas, particularly in the primary sector had fared well in the past couple of years.
Primary assessment is “not shambolic”
Ms Morgan disagreed with the accusation that the handling of primary tests was “shambolic”, “except for the key stage 1 test being published online”. That was down to a human error, the education secretary added, which was “extremely regrettable”. The politician did admit, however, that this had been a “particularly challenging” year as there had been a lot of changes introduced, such as the curriculum.
The Cabinet member reiterated her government’s ambition to make England the top performing school system for reading, writing and maths in Europe. Currently, the UK is languishing behind the likes of Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Belgium and others.
Having won a reprieve during the last Labour administration, the Home Education lobby will no doubt be preparing for a fight after Ms Morgan signalled that she would like more “regulation” around where children go when they are withdrawn from mainstream education. It was an area of “concern”, the education secretary said.