Education & Family

Schools minister Nick Gibb heckled over academy plans

ATL conference
Image caption Mr Gibb was addressing the ATL's annual conference in Liverpool

The schools minister Nick Gibb has been heckled by teachers as he defended government plans to turn all schools in England into academies.

To jeers of "rubbish", Mr Gibb told the Association of Teachers a fully academised education system would be "profession led".

The schools minister was taking part in a question an answer session at the ATL's annual conference in Liverpool.

Mr Gibb said schools that had already become academies had flourished.

But his comments failed to win over his audience.

Under the plans almost 17,000 schools which have not already converted to academy status - mostly primaries - must do so by 2020 or have committed to do so by 2022.

The plan has drawn criticism from teachers, unions and Tory local councillors.

Asked to defend it, Mr Gibb said: "I'm spending time talking to colleagues who have expressed a concern.

"But the whole academies programme is about having a profession-led system, so that the profession is in charge and not local authority officials. That's the system we're moving to.

"If you talk to head teachers who become heads of academies, they have flourished."

One audience member shouted "rubbish" while a handful of others jeered and some laughed at the minister's suggestions.

At its conference over Easter, the National Union of Teachers voted to ballot for strike action over the academies plan.

But, speaking at the NASUWT conference over Easter, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan ruled out a change of heart on the government's education reforms.

Labour has said its own analysis of official figures suggests the plan could cost £1.3bn with a shortfall in funding over £1.1bn - a suggestion dismissed by the government as "completely untrue".

Image copyright JEFF OVERS
Image caption Shadow education minister Lucy Powell urged the government to rethink the plan

Speaking in Liverpool, Mr Gibb said: "They're not right, they haven't taken into account money made available in the Spending Review. Labour, when they did their calculations, did not look at that."

Asked how much this money was, Mr Gibb said it would be hundreds of millions of pounds.

"We want there to be more autonomy in the schools academy system. People will make mistakes from time to time but we have a much more rigorous scrutiny over academies than maintained schools," he said.

Mr Gibb was applauded as he left the hall.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said he had been brave to come to conference - the problem was that his arguments did not tally with the experience of teachers in schools.

'Wait and see'

Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell, who addressed the conference after Mr Gibb, said the government needed to rethink its forced academisation plan.

Ms Powell advised schools to take their time to make plans to become academies or sign up with a multi academy trust.

"What I would say is wait and see. The government faces a really big hurdle in getting this through the parliamentary process and past some of their backbenchers too.

"Schools have got to find the right security and the right fit for them going forward."

But she would not commit a future Labour government to reversing the programme.

"I don't want to say now... that there is going to be another costly reorganisation of the school system."

Speaking later, Ms Powell suggested she would attempt to form an alliance with Conservative backbenchers opposed to forced academisation in their constituencies.

"I think my approach to these issues in Parliament is going to be about making and winning the argument rather than a sort of 'yah-boo' traditional political discourse, because I don't think that is going to enable us to develop that broader alliance.

"I have been trying to make a very sensible, rational arguments about why I feel forced academisation is wrong and I think they are the same arguments I hear echoed by Conservatives in local government and in Parliament.

"You look to build an alliance on the points you're trying to win on."

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