Education & Family

Academy 'compulsion is sticking point' for Tory MPs

Exam hall Image copyright PA
Image caption The government faces negotiations with its own MPs over the academy plans

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has defended her plans for all schools in England to be required to become academies.

But unconvinced backbench Conservative MPs want the element of compulsion to be dropped before giving it their approval.

Mrs Morgan was pressed by MPs on whether good and outstanding schools would be forced to become academies.

The education secretary said she would not "leave the job half done".

The government's White Paper on schools has proved controversial with some of its own leading backbenchers - who are expecting changes before it progresses through Parliament.

They are understood to support the benefits of academies, but to have deep doubts about the justification for forcing high-achieving schools into academy trusts against their will.

They also question whether there will be enough good academy trusts created in time to accommodate thousands of schools - and whether this new system would be able to protect a sense of connection and accountability to parents.

The sticking point is believed to be about compulsion - with its removal a condition of their support and the suggestion that if this were to be removed from a schools bill, much of the Conservative disquiet would be resolved.

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Image caption Nicky Morgan says she will not "leave the job half done" on academies

The suggestion of allowing councils to become multi-academy trusts has been described by a leading Conservative backbencher as the "worst of both worlds" - as it would leave councils in control, but without any democratic accountability.

In a debate in the House of Commons earlier this month, a number of Conservative MPs questioned the value of the proposals.

At the weekend, an organisation representing many Conservative local authorities challenged whether the academy requirement would raise school standards.

And David Davis has become the latest Tory MP to publicly raise concerns about the school proposals.

"The government should think long and hard about this step which will likely be extremely costly and may lead to many smaller schools closing down," said Mr Davis.

Next month, Mrs Morgan will have to put her plans before the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.

In education questions in the House of Commons, Mrs Morgan was pressed on the academy proposals.

Labour's Stephen Timms warned her that "enforced compulsion from Whitehall cannot be the right way forward".

But Mrs Morgan told MPs that she had not needed to "rethink" the proposed reorganisation of schools.

She argued that academies remained the best way for schools to innovate and improve.

Labour's shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, pressed her directly on whether she would go ahead with plans to force outstanding schools to convert to academy status.

From the Conservative benches, there were questions about whether the government was going to compromise - such as allowing local authorities to create their own multi-academy trusts.

Labour's shadow schools minister Nic Dakin said that allowing councils to become academy trusts for their own schools would have the effect of giving them even more power than they have at present.

But schools minister Nick Gibb said the academy plans represented "devolution in its purest form".

Mrs Morgan told MPs said that she would not back down from plans which would raise education standards.

"I am not going to be the secretary of state that had the opportunity to make sure we had a really good strong schools system across the country offering the best possible education for all of our pupils. I'm not going to leave the job half done," she said.

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