Labour created academies to improve state education radically. We are proud of their success and we stand resolutely behind the sponsors, parents and local communities who have created and sustained these independent state schools founded to provide a first-class education to children of all backgrounds.
Academies are One Nation Labour in action, and Stephen Twigg today reaffirmed Labour’s support for an expanded academies programme – both academies to replace failing or underperforming schools, and academies which do not take over from an existing school, like Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, and Peter Hyman’s School 21 in Newham, set up where there is a demand for extra school places.
Stephen also made clear that Labour would support successful schools which have changed to academy status, and would extend academy freedoms to all schools.
Free schools are academies without a predecessor school, like Mossbourne and School21. Stephen rightly pledged to support all such schools open or in the pipeline in 2015. Labour will enable more parent-led academies, like the West London Free School, to be established where there is a local demand for places.
Where we differ fundamentally from the Conservatives is that they are allowing ‘free schools’ to be established anywhere, whether or not there is a need for additional places, whereas Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas – and there are plenty of them – where there is a shortage of good quality school places. Pressure on public spending is intense; in 2010 Michael Gove cancelled 715 priority building projects for academies and community schools in desperate need of new or modernised facilities. It cannot be a priority to establish new academies in areas where there are sufficient good quality places while existing academies and community schools lack the facilities they need to do a good job.
Stephen was also right to say that a Labour government will not tolerate failing academies, and that where an academy does not have a sponsor able to govern the school effectively, they should be replaced with a sponsor equal to the task. Academies were never about independence alone but about investing in high-capacity governance – through sponsors such as Ark, Harris and United Learning – and giving them the freedom they need to achieve excellent educational standards. Where a sponsor does not deliver, they should be replaced.
Stephen rightly praised London Challenge and the critical contribution it made to transforming education in the capital by focusing attention and support on under-performing schools, partnering them systematically with successful schools and their management teams. We need an equivalent of London Challenge for every region of the country. As a former Minister for London Schools, nobody is better placed than Stephen to bring this about.
So the academies programme will continue to flourish under Labour.
The next key priority for school reform is technical education and a transformation of youth apprenticeships to serve the ’forgotten 50 per cent’ – as Ed Miliband has graphically described them – who are not on track for higher education. On this, the Conservatives are nowhere to be seen.
While Michael Gove tinkers with the grading structure of GCSEs, and the precise order in which periods of history should be taught to children, there is mass youth unemployment caused in large part by the weakness of technical education and the shortage of youth apprenticeships. The government should be tackling this crisis with bold action – action on a par with the drive to create academies over the past decade – in particular to transform youth apprenticeships. This requires a mobilisation of the state, working with the private and voluntary sectors in innovative ways, to reform the quality and quantity of apprenticeships. Yet the government is standing idly by and presiding over a REDUCTION in the number of youth apprenticeships.
Ministers are completely off the pace. Just look at their record as an employer. In parliamentary replies to me last week, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – the department responsible for apprenticeships – revealed that four of its largest agencies – the Ordnance Survey, the Met Office, Companies House and the Land Registry – have no apprentices – not one – between them, and only four – yes, four – staff under the age of 21 between them. That is no apprentices, and four staff under the age of 21, out of a total staff of nearly 9,000. At the last count BIS itself had only one apprentice under the age of 21, out of a staff of 2,500.
If the state does not lead in creating apprenticeships and employing staff under 21, how can it expect the private sector to follow?
Michael Gove and the government are twiddling their thumbs in the face of this great crisis of youth unemployment. It is One Nation Labour’s duty to act on apprenticeships with the boldness and passion we demonstrated in the creation of academies to replace failing comprehensives. We will do so.