The education secretary faced a series of questions from her own MPs today over the government’s proposals to convert every school into an academy.
Conservative backbenchers siezed the opportunity afforded through a Labour party motion to quiz Nicky Morgan on her plans for a fully academised system by 2022.
In what was a less than confident performance by Ms Morgan, the Cabinet member faced several questions from her Conservative colleagues as to why it was necessary to force schools to convert to academy status.
Tim Loughton, a former Department for Education minister and MP for East Worthing & Shoreham, was the first to break ranks who described himself as a “supporter of academies”.
“But as a Conservative I also believe in choice, so could she outline to me the downside of allowing schools to migrate organically if they choose to rather than imposing a compulsory and arbitrary timeline on it?” Mr Loughton asked.
Winchester MP Steve Brine spoke of the “confusion” among his teacher constituents in Hampshire as to “why something is so obviously not broken needs fixing”.
Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley in West Yorkshire, said he was “a Conservative because I believe in choice” and asked the education secretary to “look again at this phrase “forced” because I trust parents and governing bodies”.
Other Conservative MPs raised concerns about small rural primary schools ability to convert to academy status. Sir Edward Leigh, said his colleagues were concerned about small primaries in such areas of the country and asked Ms Morgan to make a “compromise” for county councils which support small primaries.
In setting out her opposition to the plans, Labour’s shadow education secretary Lucy Powell argued the secretary of state seemed “hell bent” on cutting out communities and parents from having any say over how their child’s school was run.
She said: “First let’s take the Tories’ plan to scrap the requirement for parents to sit on governing bodies, abolishing parent governors and removing any role for parents in choosing whether and what type of academy their child’s schools become has been unsurprisingly met with huge outcry.”
For a government claiming to lead the devolution revolution, she said, their centralisation of schools was “wrong headed and contradictory”.
In response, Ms Morgan accused her Labour opponent of “scaremongering” adding that the party’s motion was a “deliberate misinterpretation” of the government’s proposals to transform England’s schools and contained at least two errors.
Ms Powell’s interventions she argued were “starting to follow an all too familiar pattern of scaremongering and then ignoring the achievements of both the profession and our education system”. And she added: “I note that since her appointment she has yet to propose a single positive idea.”