THE BLOG

England's Children Are Being Failed by the Tories

24/02/2016 10:09 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Today, the Education and Adoption Bill passed its final hurdle in the House of Commons. This Bill, which is part of the Tory Government's obsession with converting every school in England to an academy without local consultation, is nearing the end of its passage through Parliament. I am deeply concerned that this piece of legislation takes our education system further away from the local oversight and accountability that is so badly needed to raise standards and spot and challenge underperformance early in our schools.

Already, as a direct result of the Government's policies over the last five years, we have seen a centralisation of powers in the schools system, leading us to a ludicrous situation where thousands of schools are being run by Ministers in Whitehall. For all their rhetoric, it seems the Government's localism agenda does not to apply to Secretary of State Nicky Morgan and the Department for Education.

We have already seen examples of what this lack of local oversight over schools can lead to. Just this month two of the largest academy chains have been warned for the second time by Ofsted that they are still failing to deliver for too many pupils. In two years, the Department for Education has not taken the action that is needed to turn the performance at these chains around. It is also concerning that one of these chains has recently chosen to remove its local governing bodies, leaving the 23 schools it is responsible for to be overseen by just one board, with no representatives from the local communities that these schools serve.

Incidents of financial mismanagement in schools and fraud have also been uncovered, only brought to the public's attention via whistleblowers, alongside a concerning number of instances where tax-payer money has ended up in the pockets of academy chain directors and trustees. In our now fragmented schools landscape, we have also learned of cases such as the 'Trojan Horse' affair in Birmingham, where children were left children exposed to dangerous, hard-line views for months because no one took any action.

The recent Education Select Committee report into the role of the eight Regional Schools Commissioners, each responsible for thousands of schools, made it clear that the current system is just not working. Witnesses to the inquiry stressed that parents are extremely confused about whom to contact if they have a concern about a school. As few as one in ten parents even know what role the Commissioners play in their child's education. This latest Bill will cut parents from the picture further and strip away their voice. This is all the more worrying, given that research has shown a connection between how engaged parents are with their child's education, and how their child performs at school.

This Government's obsession with school structures ignores the very real problems facing England's schools. Issues like the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, which has seen almost 50,000 teachers quit last year; the highest numbers since records began. Or that there are now half a million children are now being taught in super-sized classes in primary schools. And whilst the Tories continue to busy themselves on a Bill that does nothing to tackle these problems, the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their wealthier peers has widened for another consecutive year.

England's children are being failed by Tories. It's time the Government let go of their school structures obsession and focused on making sure every child, whatever school they attend, receives the excellent education they deserve.

Nic Dakin is the the shadow minister for schools, and Labour MP for Scunthorpe