Saturday, 25 April 2009

Labour should support primary academies that help weak schools

Today's announcement by the Conservatives that they want to extend the academies programme to primary schools may not be properly thought through, but that's as nothing compared to the response of the Government. Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove has opened a trap for the government as big as that opened by Alastair Darling on tax, and ministers have fallen thoughtlessly into it.

Labour's academies programme - for that's what it is - is successfully raising standards in many secondary schools, and there is no reason why it shouldn't be extended to primary schools. Indeed, with 3-18 academies, there are already primary schoolchildren attending academies under Labour and benefiting from a closer working relationship with secondary schools, easing transition problems.

The problem with the Tories' proposal is not that they want the programme extended to primaries but how they want to target the programme. By focusing on the most successful primaries, they will do little to lift standards in the schools that need it most.

A clever Labour response would have welcomed the Tory embrace of Labour academies, but argued that part of the deal should be that those given academy freedoms had to work with a poorly performing primary school. Labour ought also to question how the Tories' - correct - support for synthetic phonics would work with complete curriculum freedom.

Instead we get an uncharacteristically sour contribution from Jim Knight which would leave the listener thinking that academies were not a Labour success story, but a Tory plot, with the silly statement that the plan "will send a chill down the spines of parents and teachers around the country."

The only spines feeling any chill this morning will be those of thoughtful Labour supporters who know that scoring own goals is not the way to win elections.

This posting has been quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

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