Three Conservative authorities have lashed out at the education secretary after being accused of frustrating efforts to expand his academies programme.
Michael Gove wrote to MPs last week (5/11), accusing North Yorkshire CC, East Sussex CC and Havering LBC of failing to do enough to convert traditional schools into academies. The letters, which urged the MPs to make councils “take a more constructive position”, were not sent to the councils themselves.
The letter to North Yorkshire MPs, which LGC understands be similar to those sent to Havering and East Sussex, pointed to “a wealth of evidence…that the academy model is working.
“Unfortunately, this transformative drive has not taken root in North Yorkshire, where too many schools continue to underperform.”
Mr Gove accuses North Yorkshire CC of being “one of the main barriers to progress”. The authority had been slow to “pursue sponsored academy solutions for its underperforming schools” and was not encouraging its stronger schools to convert.
North Yorkshire CC’s executive member for schools, Arthur Barker (Con), described Mr Gove’s claim that its local schools system was “failing successive cohorts of pupils” as a “gross distortion of the facts”.
Cllr Barker said it was up to individual schools to decide whether to become academies. The proportion of schools with bad Ofsted results in North Yorkshire was one of the smallest in the country, he added. The rate of improvement in council-maintained secondary schools was about twice that of academies in the same area.
Havering LBC leader Michael White (Con) also criticised Mr Gove’s approach. “He seems to be suggesting that councils should be leaning on all schools to convert, and I don’t believe that would be helpful,” he said.
Cllr White also said he was “baffled” by the letter because 15 of the borough’s 18 secondary schools were academies and the council had shown no opposition to other schools converting.
Matt Dunkley, director of children’s services at East Sussex CC and former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told the BBC he was confused by the letter, adding that the council was not resistant to schools becoming academies.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education confirmed that the letter had been sent to MPs in the three areas. The department has not yet responded to a request to explain why those areas were singled out.
Mr Gove has overseen a rapid rise in the number of academy schools, from 203 in May 2010 to 2,309 in September 2012 since he took over the DfE. A senior depart official told a conference this year that there was not a school problem which did not have an “academy solution.” He had never encountered a school for which he thought becoming an academy was not the right thing to do, the offical added.