Wilshaw: Labour’s academy proposals will take schools back to the ‘Middle Ages’

The head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned that new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to bring academies and free schools under local control risks turning the clock back to the “Middle Ages”.

Last week, Lucy Powell, Labour’s new shadow education secretary, spelled out plans to devolve power over education to a local level, such as the local authority or an elected mayor.

The move, which would bring academies and free schools back into line with state maintained schools, swiftly followed the election of Mr Corbyn as Labour leader.

But Sir Michael has dismissed the idea out of hand, and told TES he “fundamentally disagreed” with it.

“It’s turning the clock back to the Middle Ages,” Sir Michael said. “The horse has bolted on that one. I am a great believer in autonomy. Give schools the freedom to raise standards as long as they are willing to be held accountable.

He added: “I think the days of giving more control to local authorities are over. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a part to play in terms of safeguarding and admissions. But no, I disagree fundamentally and I think any future government would have a battle on their hands with that one.”

Ms Powell outlined her party’s education plans last week, signalling a major departure from party’s established stance on the academies programme, which was originally introduced under Tony Blair.

“Academies and free schools will remain. They will still exist as schools, but they will come under a different accountability system that will be local,” she said. “In some places that will be the local authority; in other places that may be the combined authority; and in other places it might be an elected mayor.”

Handing control of schools back to local, democratically elected officials would be at the “heart” of future Labour policy, she added.

To read more from our interview with Sir Michael Wilshaw look out for tomorrow’s edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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