By Tim Montgomerie
Nick Gibb MP, Schools Minister, concluded yesterday's week long debate on the Academies Bill which passed the Commons by a majority of 92. Six Liberal Democrat MPs rebelled. Highlights of Mr Gibb's remarks are below.
Rebutting Ed Balls' "ludicrous" attacks on the Bill: "I shall start by saying what the Bill is not about. It is not about a "full-scale assault" on comprehensive education-a ludicrous claim by the shadow Secretary of State in The Guardian on Saturday. We believe in comprehensive education and are committed to it, and the Bill will strengthen it. Nor is it about scrapping the admissions code, another spurious claim about the Government's education policies by the shadow Secretary of State. We are committed to fair admissions through the code, and all academies will be bound by it through the model funding agreement. Nor is this Bill about the creation of a two-tier education system. Two tiers are what we have today-the best performing state schools and the worst. The independent sector, which educates just 8% of children, is responsible for 44% of all A* grades in GCSE French. It educates just 10% of 16-18 year olds, but is responsible for 35% of all A grades in A-level physics."
More freedoms for state schools: "The Bill offers all schools the opportunity to acquire the kind of professional freedoms that have proved so successful not only in the independent sector, but in the city technology colleges and in academies. After 20 years of independence, CTCs are among the most successful schools in the country. On average, in those schools, 82% achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. In those academies that have been open long enough to have had GCSE results in 2008 and 2009, a third have GCSE results that improved by 15 percentage points compared with their predecessor schools."
Why the Bill has been hurried: "We are in a hurry because we do not think that it is right that 40% of 11-year-olds leave primary school still struggling with reading, writing and maths. It is not acceptable that nearly three quarters of pupils eligible for free school meals fail to get five or more GCSEs or equivalents at grades A* to C, including English and maths, or that 42% of those eligible for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above grade D."
Even with this reform most schools remain in local authority control: "I know that there are some concerns among hon. Members of all parties about the future role of local authorities if all schools become academies. However, I should point out that there are 203 academies out of 3,300 secondary schools and some 17,000 primary schools. It will be many years, if at all, before all those schools acquire academy status. The Bill is permissive, not prescriptive or mandatory. We see a new and stronger role for local authorities emerging over the years as champions of parents and pupils, challenging rather than defending underperforming schools."