Reform rushed through using anti-terror rules

16th July 2010 at 01:00
`Totally undemocratic' fast-tracking of legislation sparks widespread concerns over lack of scrutiny

Reforms that will allow every school to become an academy will be rushed through at a pace usually reserved for emergencies such as anti- terror legislation, it has emerged.

Serious concerns have been raised that the Academies Bill, which has just moved into the House of Commons, will face less scrutiny before becoming law than any major public sector overhaul in a generation.

Ministers want the bill passed before Parliament closes for summer recess on July 27, enabling it to grant a number of schools academy status from September.

The development came as it emerged that the Department for Education had published errors on a list of schools interested in becoming academies - prompting criticism that it is trying to force the pace of change.

It is understood that MPs will be given only 30 minutes to table amendments after the Academy Bill's second reading, instead of the days or weeks they are usually given.

John Fowler, a constitutional and policy expert, said the Government's approach was "not a good omen" when it came to the level of scrutiny.

"The last piece of legislation that was pushed through in this manner that was not anti-terror law was the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, which was a disaster," he said. "But even that had all-party support. This is all about having an act in place so they can open their academies in September."

According to policy analysts, the speed at which the bill is being pushed through does not meet the criteria set out by the House of Lords constitution committee on fast-track legislation.

Vernon Coaker, the shadow schools minister, said the move was an "affront" to Parliament, teachers and parents groups.

"The shambles over Building Schools for the Future (BSF) will be as nothing if this bill is rushed through without proper scrutiny," Mr Coaker said. "Confidence in Michael Gove's ability to get things right first time is already at rock bottom."

Emily Evans, parliamentary and campaigns officer at teaching union the NUT, said the Government was acting in a "totally undemocratic and unconstitutional" way. "What is the point in having an elected House if such decisions are made?" she said. "We have real concerns about this."

Mr Coaker raised a point of order on the subject on Wednesday, but the Speaker of the House said there was nothing he could do.

Concerns about the Bill came as it emerged that a government list of schools considering becoming academies contains a series of errors, including at least one school that did not express any interest in the scheme.

The list, published by the DfE, describes schools as being in the wrong local authorities, in some cases more than 100 miles apart.

It has also been criticised for lacking clarity - it gives only a school's name and local authority, even when there is more than one school with the same name.

Andy Nichols, head of Lea Valley Primary School in Haringey, north London, said his school, rated outstanding, is on the list even though his school did not express any interest in academy status.

"In all honesty the Department should be able to check before publishing schools' names," he said.

Errors also include Enmore Primary School, which is listed as being in Shropshire when it is actually in Somerset. Broadwater School is listed as being in Norfolk, when it is actually in Surrey.

The mistakes were identified by Tim Ostley, managing director of Webucate 2000, an educational data firm, when carrying out checks for his website.

"The government has made great play about the number of schools that have expressed an interest and where they are located and that information is wrong," he said.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "On the back on the BSF list, it seems we have a Department for Education that is making errors because of the pace of change," he said.

  • Original headline: Academies reform to be rushed through using anti-terror rules

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