Nick Gibb drew laughter, jeers and heckles from teachers this morning as he stated the case for the Government’s flagship academisation plans.
The schools minister failed to win over members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union when he took part in a question-and-answer session at their conference in Liverpool, as they continued to raise concerns over plans to turn all schools into academies by 2022.
Asked to defend the Government’s education White Paper, which has been widely rejected by teachers, unions and Tory local councillors, Mr Gibb said: “I’m spending time talking to colleagues who have expressed a concern.
“But the whole academies programme is about having a profession-led system, so that the profession is in charge and not local authority officials. That’s the system we’re moving to. If you talk to headteachers who become heads of academies, they have flourished.”
One audience member shouted “rubbish” while a handful of others jeered and some laughed at the minister’s suggestions.
The academisation plans, announced in the Budget last month, prompted protests from teaching unions in cities across the country who said they were concerned about removing schools from local authority control.
Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) already voted to ballot for strike action against the plan.
Yesterday Labour said the scheme would face a £1.1 billion funding shortfall, an accusation described by the Government as “completely untrue”.
Speaking in Liverpool, Mr Gibb said: “They’re not right, they haven’t taken into account money made available in the Spending Review. Labour, when they did their calculations, did not look at that.
“We want there to be more autonomy in the schools academy system. People will make mistakes from time to time but we have a much more rigorous scrutiny over academies than maintained schools. The scrutiny is much greater than it’s ever been. Transparency is the greatest disinfectant.”
Asked if he accepted there was a teacher recruitment crisis, Mr Gibb said: “I think it’s a big challenge.”
He said: “I talk to head teachers all the time, and they tell me how difficult it is to recruit maths teachers and foreign languages teachers. But I don’t think we should be talking down the teaching profession. It’s a great profession to be in and that’s the message I convey.”