Academies are “just one part of the picture”, education secretary Nicky Morgan has said, in what will be seen as another major departure from her predecessor’s line on the country’s school system.
Ms Morgan, who replaced Michael Gove as head of the Department for Education in July, has continued her charm offensive toward the teaching profession, stating that academies are not the whole picture and are “complemented” by thousands of “excellent” schools in the maintained sector.
It marks a serious change in tone from the DfE, which previously saw Mr Gove regularly placed on a war-footing with the teaching profession over standards in schools.
Ms Morgan’s comments come in a letter addressed to her opposite number, Labour education spokesman Tristram Hunt, and continue her attempts to make relations between her office and the workforce less adversarial.
Responding to Mr Hunt’s letter, which was sent on the day she came into office and claimed that the coalition’s reforms had led to a lowering of overall standards and focused too much on structural reform, Ms Morgan said the government’s track record “spoke for itself”.
“Our expansion of the academies programme has given schools the freedom to decide for themselves how best to support their pupils,” she writes.
But she adds: “Of course, academies are just one part of the picture, and their work is complemented by thousands of excellent schools in the maintained sector.
“The quality and prestige of our teaching profession is also better than ever.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, welcomed her comments, but added they needed to be followed with action.
"I think that is a very interesting statement, because you would have been forgiven for thinking that maintained schools didn't exist over the last four years, and that they were merely part of the problem. Whatever was happening in maintained schools, it was generally thought that academies would have solved the problem," Mr Hobby said.
"I'm not against academies but 80 per cent of schools are maintained schools, and while I welcome such comments I would like to see some more action, particularly around the work being carried out by academy brokers and their behaviour."
Back in July, Mr Hunt wrote to Ms Morgan asking whether the education secretary would end the “watering down” of teaching standards by reversing her predecessor's “reckless policy of allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms on a permanent basis”.
And he added: “Instead of a relentless focus upon structural reform – which is yielding ever more diminishing returns – it would be a good idea to focus upon what we know works in terms of improving standards in schools.”
Read Nicky Morgan's letter to Tristram Hunt in full