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Conservative Education Select Committee chairman expresses concern at the Academies Bill's hasty passage through the Commons as Michael Gove declares himself a "born-again Blairite"

By Jonathan Isaby

Yesterday saw the Second Reading of the Academies Bill, which has already gone through the House of Lords.

Picture 6 During the debate, Graham Stuart, the elected chairman of the Education Select Committee, expressed his concern with the speed at which the legislation is being taken through the Commons:

"I am concerned by the speed at which the legislation is going through Parliament. It would be a great shame if something so potentially beneficial were damaged or discredited by over-hasty execution. The Bill delivers a Conservative manifesto commitment on a policy that has been clear for years, but none the less parliamentary scrutiny is necessary and beneficial for any policy. It should not be rushed and when it is, as the last Administration found, the errors usually rebound on the Government who put it through. I ask Ministers to think carefully about implementation this September-whether we are talking about hundreds or, perhaps, as few as 50 schools. Is it worth the candle to put the Bill through so swiftly?"

Michael Gove pensive 2010 This was an issue which Education Secretary Michael Gove had anticipated in his speech opening the debate:

"I know that some Opposition Members say, "Pause, gie canny, slow down, hesitate", but that is the argument of the conservative throughout the ages when confronted with the radicalism that says we need to do better for our children. We cannot afford to wait. We cannot afford Labour's failed approach any more, with teachers directed from the centre, regulations stifling innovation and our country falling behind other nations. We need reform and we need it now. We need the Bill."

He summarised the need for the Bill earlier in the speech:

"It grants greater autonomy to individual schools, it gives more freedom to teachers and it injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children and for the disadvantaged most of all.

"The need for action to transform our state education system has never been more urgent. In the past 10 years, we have seen a decline in the performance of our country's education in comparison with our competitors. We were, 10 years ago, fourth in the world for the quality of our science education; we are now 14th. We were, 10 years ago, seventh in the world for the quality of our children's literacy; we are now 17th. And we were, 10 years ago, eighth in the world for the quality of our children's mathematics; we are now 24th. At the same time as we have fallen behind other nations, we have seen a stubborn gap persist between the educational attainment of the wealthiest and the opportunities available to the poorest."

"The Bill trusts teachers. It marks a big step forward from what happened under the last Government. The last piece of education legislation that Labour tried to bring forward sought to prescribe in excessive detail exactly what should happen in every school, but all the evidence suggests that a greater degree of autonomy and freedom yields results for all pupils. Even before academies, a group of schools-the city technology colleges-was established by my right hon. Friend Lord Baker of Dorking. All of them were comprehensive schools in working-class, challenged or disadvantaged areas. All of them were established independent of local authority control. They are now achieving fantastic results. On average, their GCSE performance involves more than 82% of students getting five good GCSEs, including English and maths, which is at least half as good again as the average level of all schools in the country.

"We know that CTCs have been successful. They have been in existence for more than 20 years and are a proven model of how autonomy can work. It was their persuasive work and the evidence of school improvement they generated that prompted Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, to go for the academies programme. He believed that the autonomy CTCs benefited from should be extended much more widely."

Gove also referred to what Blair as Prime MInister had proposed in his 2005 education white paper:

"He made it clear then that he wanted every school to have academy freedoms so that they could drive up standards for all. In that sense, we are merely fulfilling the case that was made in 2005. I am happy to call myself a born-again Blairite, but all I see as I look at the Opposition Benches are groups of Peters denying - I hesitate to say the messiah - the previous Prime Minister three times."


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