Nicky Morgan has countered criticism of her controversial academisation plans by stressing that schools will still be able to work with local authorities and that no academies will be forced to join academy chains.
The education secretary also suggested that a fully academised system was inevitable because, on current trends, three-quarters of secondary schools and a third of primaries "would have converted to academy status by 2022 anyway" without government intervention.
"That trajectory makes it impossible for local authorities to manage expensive bureaucracies with fewer and fewer schools," she told heads at the Academies Show in London this morning.
Catalyst for success
Ms Morgan said she understood that "academy status doesn’t raise standards as a matter of course".
But she said school leaders could use academy status to "propel schools to success". Good schools would have to become academies "so they can become sponsors and support those schools which are not meeting the high standards pupils need", she told heads.
The government's schools White Paper makes it clear that it expects "most schools" to be part of multi-academy trusts (MATs).
But today the education secretary sought to soften the message, saying: "Let me be absolutely clear that there is a place for successful and sustainable standalone academies and we will never put pressure on them to subscribe to a different model."
And she said councils would retain a role in education in a fully academised system: "Many academies already work closely with their local authorities and we see no reason why that should change.
"Local authorities will continue to offer services which schools can pick and choose to purchase; they will continue to provide services for children with special needs; and they will continue to have a duty to provide school places for all children."
Freedom from 'diktats'
Ms Morgan said academy status was "a crucial rejection of the outdated, one-size-fits-all approach of the past, freeing your schools from the diktats of local and national politicians alike."
Her speech follows her comments yesterday when the education secretary admitted that critics had raised "important issues" over her plans to force every state school to become an academy.
Speaking on BBC radio the education secretary acknowledged other MPs’ concerns about the conversion process and the fate of small, rural schools under the policy, but declared she was "very confident" that there was "broad support" for total academisation.
"The thing that I know from my conversations with colleagues is that there is widespread support for schools becoming academies," she said. "Colleagues have raised some important issues – they want to know more clarification about things like the conversion and in particular small, rural primary schools and how this ties in with our wider reforms on the national funding formula."
But she added: "I’m very confident that there is very broad support for our schools becoming academies."
Meanwhile, government documents published on Monday state that church leaders should have the last say on whether the schools they run should become academies.
Two new memoranda of understanding, released by the Deparment for Education, say that, in the case of the Catholic Church, "any decision as to whether consent will be forthcoming will be made by the Diocesan Bishop".
For the Church of England, the memorandum says the government "respects the statutory right and requirement for the consent of various diocesan bodies to allow a church school to become an academy".
However, the government has stressed that these formal agreements with regional schools commissioners and the government on how church schools will work – developed following the Education and Adoption Bill – are subject to change to take account of future government policy as outlined in the White Paper.
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