Meet the Tory council boss who's happy to snub the academy dream

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Government adviser from Gove's constituency risks party's ire by saying he 'struggles' to see why his schools should switch

The Conservative leader of one of England's largest local authorities has risked the wrath of party bosses by discouraging schools under his control from converting to academy status.

Andrew Povey, leader of Surrey County Council and a member of a government advisory body on the academy expansion, said he would "struggle" to see why a school in his county should apply to change status.

Surrey - the county in which Education Secretary Michael Gove has his constituency - plays host to 516 schools and is the sixth biggest local authority. Speaking to The TES, Dr Povey said he sees "little benefit" in schools there becoming an academy.

"If you look at Surrey's results, you can see our GCSE results in five A*-C in English and maths has gone up by 4 per cent," he said. "That is an enormous leap in just one year. We are one of the top-performing areas in the country, so I don't see that the move to academy status would do much for us."

Dr Povey added that he did not see that academies had "any more freedom" than foundation schools that already existed.

"There are other areas where the move (to academy status) would be more applicable, and I think the Government is quite right to have this option open, but I struggle to see what the benefit would be to do it in an area like ours."

The comments from Surrey's council leader will be of further embarrassment to Mr Gove, who has come under sustained criticism following the introduction of his Academies Bill in May.

It is understood Mr Gove's camp had hoped they would see a tripling of the number of academies by the time schools opened their gates this September, but just 32 were ready in time for the new school year.

Mr Gove has pinned his reputation on the success of his academies programme, and the news that the Conservative leader of one of the most successful councils in the country does not back his reforms in his own county will be a major blow.

Shadow schools minister Vernon Coaker said it heaped more pressure on Mr Gove, adding that the Education Secretary should be forced to rethink his plans for school reform.

"Even Michael Gove's local Tories can't see the point of this policy," he said. "One wonders where he gets his ideas from, maybe it's about time he started to listen to people. This is yet another blow for his flagship policy."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Academies are proven to raise standards. It is down to individual schools to decide whether or not to apply for freedoms over pay, conditions and curriculum. No school has a gun against its head - ministers are relaxed about whether they convert."


Kent leader warned Tories

Ten days before the general election, Kent Council leader Paul Carter warned the Conservatives that they must ensure fairer funding when introducing new academies and free schools.

Councillor Carter said he supported the plans but said the party must avoid what he called "destructive" - as opposed to "constructive" - competition.

The council leader said current spending on academies and future spending on free schools could draw money away from local authorities' budgets.

"The more academies and free schools you operate, under the current arrangements, the less maintained schools get," he said.

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