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Why I'm Rallying With Teaching Unions Against Tory Education Reforms

23/03/2016 18:27 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Today I'm joining parents and teachers across the country, alongside the ATL and NUT, to rally against unnecessary and unwanted changes to our schools system announced last week.

The Tory Government's plans to force all schools to become academies is a top-down, costly reorganisation of our schools, which nobody wants and schools don't need. The anger from parents and teachers against these plans has been swift and palpable. Nicky Morgan MP, the education secretary, got a mauling from angry mumsnetters and schools minister Nick Gibb couldn't answer basic questions about the plans posed to him by Newsnight on the day the new Schools White Paper was launched.

The Tories' plans to force all schools to become academies won't solve the serious problems in our education system they have created.

School budgets face a real terms cut for the first time since the mid-1990s, and head teachers across the country that I speak to warn of real squeezes on budgets, which will see them reducing extra-curricular opportunities for young people or numbers of teaching staff.

Week after week we hear more serious warnings about the teacher shortage crisis. There are chronic shortages of teachers, with the government failing to recruit enough teachers every year for the last four years. On top of this, Tory education policy has seen teachers leaving the profession in droves, with the highest number of teachers ever leaving the profession in the last year alone.

The Government's approach to planning for school places is simply not working for parents. It has led to more parents failing to get their preferred choice school, rising class sizes, and children having to travel further to get to school. At the same time, teachers and parents are trying to navigate their way through huge changes to exams and assessments, and the Government is already way behind schedule on delivering GCSE and A-level specifications due to be taught from this September.

With such huge challenges already facing our schools, to ask head teachers to take time, money and effort away from raising standards, to deal with an unnecessary and unfounded obsession with 'academising' all schools is irresponsible and reckless, and will only harm standards.

Given that the vast majority of non-academies affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80% of which are already good and outstanding, this policy is evidently not about school improvement. All parents know that just as there are some great academies, there are some excellent community schools, and also extremely poor examples of both. Rather than pitting types of school against each other, this Government should be channelling all their efforts and those of frontline staff in schools into driving up standards across all types of schools. Yet, the Tories' obsession with schools structures, at the expense of what really matters in classrooms - the quality of teaching - completely misses the point.

Labour will stand up for children and parents and oppose these plans. We will seek to build an alliance with parents, heads, local government leaders, both Labour and Conservative, to stop this costly and unnecessary reorganisation of our schools. Rather than cut parents out of the picture, we want to put local parents and communities at the heart of decisions when it comes to their children's schools.

Lucy Powell is the shadow education secretary and Labour MP for Manchester Central