Teachers have heckled and jeered Bognor and Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb as he tried to defend the government’s plans to convert all schools to academies.
Mr Gibb was interviewed in his role as schools minister by Gerrard Kelly at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union conference in Liverpool today (Monday April 4).
The subject of the government’s recently published white paper, which sets out plans for the country’s education system over the next five years, was the first to be raised.
The plans require some 17,000 schools – mostly primary schools – to convert to academy status by 2020, or to be on their way to doing so by 2022. They have been widely criticised by teachers, unions and even members of the Tory party, with many feeling schools should not be taken out of local authority control and placed in the hands of academy trusts.
There was raucous laughter from the audience when Mr Gibb stated the academies programme was about members of the teaching profession being in charge. His claim headteachers at schools which had already become academies had “flourished” prompted Mr Gerrard to say: “There’s no actual evidence that they are any better than local authority schools.”
Mr Gerrard continued: “Many people out there, even outside the education system, parents in particular, do not understand why their good local school, which is doing well and is run well by the local authority, should be forced to convert.”
Mr Gibb told the conference there was nothing to stop officers in the local authorities from forming a Multi Academy Trust themselves.
Such a move, though, would not mean the local authority would then be in charge of those schools, simply that some of its staff would be running a trust.
Mr Gerrard repeatedly pointed out the evidence “simply wasn’t there” to support the government’s claim academies and academy trusts were superior to local authority run schools.
There was a round of applause when he asked Mr Gibb why the academy programme could not be voluntary – as it is now – with schools deciding for themselves if they wanted to convert.
Mr Gibb responded: “It’s about making sure we don’t have two systems of over-sight, one of which is not sustainable because the proportion of schools which have become academies is so high that it’s just not sustainable in the long run.
“That’s what a responsible government has to tackle.
“I know these issues are controversial. We didn’t go into this not realising that it wasn’t controversial. But that is the only sensible way to have an over-sight system that’s sustainable in the long run.”
There was more laughter when Mr Gibb refused to accept the widely acknowledged belief there was a teacher recruitment crisis – despite the government having failed to reach its teacher recruitment target for four years running.
He chose instead to refer to it as a “challenge”, citing the strong economy for the difficulties faced when it came to recruiting new graduates.
He added: “We haven’t just sort of sat back and said we don’t think there’s a problem. We’ve taken every measure possible to deal with this issue.
“We have produced very generous bursaries, spending £300m a year to try to encourage graduates to come in to teaching, £30,000 tax free for some top graduates and so on.”
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