Greening jeered over response to failed Wakefield City Academies Trust

11th September 2017 at 17:19
Senior Labour MP, raising questions about troubled trust, quotes the findings of a report exclusively revealed by Tes

Education secretary Justine Greening has been jeered and heckled in the House of Commons after sidestepping a series of questions about failings at Wakefield City Academies Trust.

At today's Education Questions, Ms Greening was asked repeatedly about last week's revelation that the troubled trust has asked to give up all 21 of its schools.

But opposition MPs were incensed when she declined to provide details about what action the government is taking, and instead launched a lengthy attack on the Labour Party's education record.

Labour MP Mary Creagh said the academy trust's announcement last week had come as a "bolt from the blue" to students, parents and teachers. She quoted the findings of a report exclusively revealed by Tes last year.

She said: "A leaked report last November found that the trust was projected to be £16 million in deficit, [with] hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on an interim educational consultant, and that the school, Wakefield City High, didn't even know which pupils were in receipt of pupil premium.

"What steps is the secretary of state taking to make sure that those disadvantaged children do not miss out as a result of financial mismanagement and her department's incompetence?"

'Standards are going up'

Ms Greening said it was important to take "swift action to have those schools re-brokered so standards can go up".

She then added: "But I fundamentally disagree with her that standards are falling. Standards are going up and, in fact, the place in our United Kingdom where standards are the worst and falling is Wales, where Labour is in control.

"I really do think that before pointing the finger at England, the Labour Party should be apologising to Welsh children, who are missing out because of a flawed and failing education policy there."

Her response attracted a noisy response from across the floor, with several opposition MPs shouting "disgraceful".

'Failure of local accountability'

Later in the session, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said Ms Greening's answer was "not good enough".

She said: "This is a model that her department has been pushing all of these schools into.

"Isn't it time she had a full review of the complete failure of local accountability in these multi-academy trusts, and also made sure there is enough finance and support in place for the pupils in my constituency to make sure they don't lose out as a result of this failed management?"

Ms Greening repeated her earlier comments about taking swift action, before again attacking Labour. She said: "I have to say that I wish that the Labour Party had been so passionate about raising standards when it was actually in government.

"What children actually got across our country under Labour in government was falling standards, grade inflation, employers getting young people coming into work without the basic skills.

"You know where we still see that? In Wales, and we will continue to raise standards in England. Perhaps the Labour Party would be better placed looking at the area where it's in control."

Separately, she was asked a number of questions related to school funding, but would only say that final details on the national funding formula would be published "very soon".

Meanwhile, minister Nick Gibb was asked by Labour MP Jeff Smith whether the public sector pay cap was making it more difficult to recruit teachers.

Mr Gibb said: "Pay is, of course, important, but it is not the only factor that drives teachers into or out of the profession. [This is affected by] workload as well, and pupil behaviour, and those are issues we take very seriously, as well as pay."

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