Commenting on the introduction of the Education and Adoption Bill, which would give the Secretary of State for Education greater powers to force schools which are deemed to be ‘coasting’ to be made into academies – without providing a firm definition of ‘coasting’, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said:
“We all want children in all schools to succeed. But schools which need to improve require an environment of calm stability that enables strategic measures to be put in place that will improve the young people’s prospects.
“The failure of the Bill to define a ‘coasting’ school, or the deliberate intent to keep its meaning woolly, will create the precise opposite: a climate of fear in schools.
“There are many examples of schools which have improved their Ofsted judgments from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ in the past two to three years: Ashton Park and St Bernadette Secondary in Bristol South are two of them.
“The nub of this Bill is to make ‘academisation’ much simpler for the Secretary of State to order, giving her power to choose the definition of ‘coasting’ by issuing regulations. Given the immense impact of academisation, and the prospect of it, upon staff, parents and young people, the government must guarantee that the eventual definition of ‘coasting’ – and any subsequent changes – will be allocated proper time for scrutiny, rather than allowing it to be hostage to political will.”
She added that her concerns about this Bill are not limited only to the impact upon schools, but on accountability and democracy too.
“In Bristol South schools have for some time been working together with peer support and with very close links with parents, children and the wider communities the schools serve. This gives them the flexibility to match skills & qualifications to the local economy as well as the global one we all inhabit. Crucially it gives parents real influence to help shape the nature and ethos of the educational establishment their children attend. But this Bill effectively hands control of the very constitution of our schools to the Secretary of State. How will parents in Bristol South be able to exercise their right to influence their children’s education once so much power has been squeezed into so few hands?
“From where parents and education professionals in Bristol South are looking it seems nothing less than hypocrisy for a government to talk one week of the need to devolve powers to our city regions and to the people who live there. Then to table a Bill whose intent – in education, one of the most important areas of our lives – forces control in the opposite direction, putting it into the hands of Whitehall.”