Below is the text of the speech made by Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2016.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on all schools becoming academies.
In our White Paper “Educational Excellence Everywhere”, published in March, I set out the Government’s vision of continuing the rise in educational standards in England during the rest of the current Parliament. We are committed to building on the reforms of the past six years, which have led to 1.4 million more children being taught in good and outstanding schools. However, we are not content to stop there: 1.4 million children is a start, but it is not enough. We must ensure that we deliver a great education to every single child, because we owe it to the next generation to give them the tools that will enable them to realise every ounce of their potential.
The White Paper was called “Educational Excellence Everywhere” for a reason. As I have said before, for me the “everywhere” is non-negotiable. In the White Paper, for example, we set out our plans for “Achieving Excellence Areas”, where we will focus specific resources on tackling entrenched educational underperformance. The White Paper also sets out how we want to see the teaching profession take responsibility for teacher accreditation, tackle unfair funding, build leadership capacity and set high expectations for every child, with a world-leading knowledge-based curriculum in a truly school-led self-improving system learning from the best from across the world and preparing the next generation to compete on the global stage.
It is the vision of a fully academised system that has attracted the most attention. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have spoken to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as to school leaders, governors, local government representatives and parents. It is clear from those conversations that the strength and importance of academies is widely accepted. There is a clear recognition of the case for putting greater responsibility for the school system in the hands of school leaders. Let me be clear: we firmly believe that schools becoming more autonomous and more directly accountable for their results raises standards. Academies are the vehicle to allow schools and leaders to innovate with the curriculum, have the flexibility to set the pay and conditions for their staff and bring about great collaboration with other schools.
We still want every school to become an academy by 2022. We always intended this to be a six-year process in which good schools should be able to take their own decisions about their future as academies. However, we understand the concerns that have been raised about a hard deadline and legislating for blanket powers to issue academy orders. That is why I announced on Friday that we have decided it is not necessary to take blanket powers to convert good schools in strong local authorities to academies at this time.
In March, a record high of 227 schools chose to apply for academy status, showing clearly where the momentum lies as school leaders, parents, governors and teachers across the country embrace the benefits that being an academy brings. Since then, we have also issued more than 104 academy orders to underperforming schools, meaning that the young people in those schools will soon benefit from the strong leadership provided by expert academy sponsors. That is why those who took to the airwaves this weekend to crow about a victory in their battle against raising standards will find themselves sorely disappointed. There will be no retreat from our mission to give every child the best start in life and to build an education system led by school leaders and teachers on the frontline, running their own schools as academies.
The Education and Adoption Act 2016 already enables us to rapidly convert failing schools and schools that are coasting, where they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor. As a result, it is now easier to respond swiftly and effectively when schools underperform. Schools will not be allowed to languish unchallenged for years. As we set out in the White Paper, and as I have subsequently argued, the most pressing need for further powers is to boost standards for those schools languishing in the worst performing local authorities and to provide for schools in local authorities likely to become unviable. So instead of taking a blanket power to convert all schools, we will seek powers in two specific circumstances where it is clear that the case for conversion to academy status is pressing. In our worst performing local authorities, we need to take more decisive action so that a new system led by outstanding schools can take their place. Similarly, because of the pace of academisation in some areas, it will become increasingly difficult for local authorities to offer schools the necessary support, and there will be a need to ensure that those schools are not dependent on an unviable local authority.
We will therefore seek provisions to convert schools in the lowest performing and unviable local authorities to academy status. In some circumstances, that might involve the conversion of good and outstanding schools when they have not chosen to do so themselves. However, the need for action in those limited circumstances is clear, because of the considerable risk to the standard of education that young people in those schools receive, as the local authority is either unable to guarantee their continued success or support further improvement. We will consult on these arrangements, including the thresholds for performance and unviability, and I am making a clear commitment that the definition and thresholds of underperformance and viability will be the subject of an affirmative resolution in this House.
I would also like to reassure hon. Members in regard to concerns about how we protect small schools, particularly those in rural areas. I have already made it clear that no small rural school will close as a result of the move to have more schools becoming academies. There is already a statutory presumption against the closure of rural schools, but we will now go further. Where small rural schools are converting to academy status, we will introduce a dual lock to ensure their protection: both local and national Government will have to agree to a school closing before a decision can be made. There will also be dedicated support to help rural primary schools during the process of conversion, and a £10 million fund to secure expert support and advice for them.
While we want every school to become an academy, we will not compel successful schools to join multi-academy trusts. In order to share expertise and resources, we expect that most schools will form local clusters of multi-academy trusts, but if the leadership of a successful school does not wish to enter a formal relationship with other schools, we trust it to make that decision and will not force it to do so. Small schools will be able to convert to stand-alone academies as long as they are financially sustainable.
I began this statement by saying that our goal has not changed. This Government will continue to prioritise the interests of young people and getting them the best start in life by having an excellent education over the vested interests who seek to oppose the lifting of standards and the rooting out of educational underperformance. Those very same vested interests allowed schools to languish for years unchallenged and unchanged until the launch of the sponsored academies programme by the last Labour Government.
Our work to improve our education system will continue apace. We will continue to empower school leaders and raise standards. We will continue to hold high expectations for every child. We will establish a fair national funding formula for schools, so that young people everywhere get the funding they deserve. We will continue to work towards a system in which all schools are run and led by the people who know them best, in a way that works for their pupils, as academies. The reforms will transform the education system in our country and ensure that we give every child an excellent education, so that they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I commend this statement to the House.