Use ‘Bosman-style’ contracts to free schools from failing academy chains, Hunt says

Tristram Hunt has pledged to make it easier for schools to get out of their “near unbreakable bond” with poor or failing academy chains.

In a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual conference, the shadow education secretary said he wanted schools’ contracts with academy chains to be shorter, with clearly defined break clauses.

He likened the system to football’s “Bosman ruling”, which makes it easier for football players to move between clubs.

“In some academy chains, I see far more control, micro-managing and revenue-skimming than in many a local authority,” Hunt said. “Chains should be inspected by Ofsted and competing to attract schools…but in so many cases at the moment this just isn’t happening.”

Parents should also be more involved in the governance of large academy chains, he said.

During the speech, Mr Hunt also called for an end to “education by diktat” and promised to devolve power to teachers and school leaders.

Too often within Westminster, he said, there had been “a sort of alpha-male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’”. However, he continued, change in education should come from the “bottom up” by decentralising power.

“That is first and foremost a challenge for me to let go,” he said, adding that there should be “an element of trust” in the relationship between the profession and Westminster.

Mr Hunt said he had “heard” concerns raised by ASCL about regional variations in school funding, as reported by TES this week. “Over time, the disparities in unequal funding have to be made much more equitable,” he said.

He added that the “critical challenge” was no longer about improving schools in East London, but was instead in “Suffolk, Hartlepool, the Isle of Wight and North Staffordshire”. Mr Hunt said that he wanted the “best school innovators in the world” to work in these areas.

Elsewhere at the conference, Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws said Ofsted should be able to inspect academy chains.

He also said that his party’s election manifesto would propose an independent Educational Standards Authority to “oversee detailed curriculum content and overall standards”.

The manifesto would commit the party to a national fair-funding formula, he added. It would also “seek to avoid major changes to curriculum, qualifications and accountability while pupils are already in a key stage”.

Teachers’ and headteachers’ pay would have to “at least keep pace with other professions and private sector competition”, Mr Laws warned, as he called for schools’ budgets to be increased in real terms.

And in a thinly veiled dig at former education secretary Michael Gove, Mr Laws said politicians created “obvious dangers” when they “start selecting the precise works of literature and periods of history which should be taught”.

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