One topic dominating our headlines has been education. Just last week, I visited the new site of Sybil Andrews Academy in Moreton Hall and met with local builders working hard to deliver the school for the new term.
This week also saw 90% of all first choice school places allocated in Suffolk, an improvement on last year’s results. However, the national discussion has turned towards the Government’s proposal to convert all schools into academies.
As a parent and former schools governor, I consider it a privilege to visit the many schools across my constituency and see the great teaching that takes place. We all want the very best start in life for our children and the academies programme has encouraged educational excellence. Most importantly, the academies programme has so far, offered choice to parents and students.
However, I do have reservations about the Government’s intentions to deliver academy status to all schools. Proposed in the White Paper titled, ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ the paper suggests all schools, whether with the assistance of local authorities or the Department of Education, will apply for academy status by 2020. Whilst I applaud the focus to delivering educational excellence, I feel across-the- board academy status is not the solution here.
My concern is that this programme has the potential to be overly prescriptive in a model of schooling, inconsistent with the variety of talent of our young people across academic and vocational interests. I never cease to be inspired when I meet apprentices who tell me they want to be the future business leaders and experts in fields like construction and engineering. In my mind the current plans risk devaluing other models of learning like music, theatre and arts which are equally enriching for students as are core subjects like English, maths and science.
Particularly for our rural schools, plans to deliver Multi-Academy Trusts (MAT), whereby all academies in the MAT are governed by one trust and a single board of directors, will be significantly disadvantaged by the lower density and connectivity of our village schools, as compared to those in urban areas.
However, my greatest objection is for the imposition of academy status on all schools; removing choice within our education system and forcing schools to, in many cases, change a system already delivering an excellent level of education. Quite simply, one size does not fit all.
I have already called for fairer schools funding to address the disparity between urban and rural areas and this Government has listened and responded positively. As these current plans are just at proposal stage, I have raised these concerns with Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan and asked that the Government listen once again. If not, Suffolk and other rural areas will have to shout a bit louder in order to protect all our interests.
-- Jo Churchill is MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket