Balls vs Gove: Coalition academies ‘fail the fairness test’

In an address to the Fabian Society this morning, Ed Balls unveiled new research which attacks Michael Gove’s academies programme for being elitist.

In an address to the Fabian Society this morning, Ed Balls unveiled new research which attacks Michael Gove’s academies programme for being elitist.

In this latest attack, Mr Balls argues it will perpetuate advantage instead of tackling disadvantage. This may give the education secretary genuine cause for thought, as he has previously expressed a desire to reverse the situation whereby “rich thick kids do better than poor clever children when they arrive at school [and] the situation as they go through gets worse”.

Compared to the 64 Labour-chosen schools which will open as Academies this term, the 32 opening under the Coalition programme are significantly better-off. They all have an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted. In addition, they:

• Have half the proportion of pupils with special educational needs – 6.9 per cent compared to 13.8 per cent;

• Achieved GCSE results well above the national average (of 50.7 per cent) with 72.6 per cent getting five A*-C grades including English and maths – compared to 30.8 per cent in the schools being replaced by Labour Academies;

• Are on average located in areas with significantly fewer deprived children than schools being replaced by Labour Academies. Based on the 2007 Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index, the new Academies are located in areas with average child deprivation of 17 per cent compared to 27 per cent for schools being replaced by Labour Academies.

Mr Balls said:

The Tory-Lib Dem government’s policies fail the fairness test. This analysis of Academies opening this term highlights the stark contrast between a progressive education policy under Labour to tackle disadvantage and under-performance and Michael Gove’s elitist policy which is simply about rewarding schools that are already doing well.

“Through this new Tory Academies policy, the Education Secretary is giving high-performing schools in less deprived areas and with fewer children with special educational needs more funding at the expense of schools which need it most. That cannot be fair by any definition of the word.

“Schools in more deprived areas with more children with special educational needs and lower results will be left with fewer resources than they need to tackle the barriers to learning their children face.

“That’s because these new Academies will take an equal share of the funding local authorities have to provide a range of services for children with special educational needs, behavioural problems and things like school food and transport, rather than a fair share based on the needs of the children in that school.”

The shadow education secretary tacked on several other criticisms to his critique of the Coalition Academies’ lack of progressive credentials. He responded to reports that Gove is to drop the requirement for schools to report all recorded incidences of bullying, saying:

“When I was Schools Secretary I announced this change to ensure all schools recorded incidents of bullying between pupils and against school staff too. It was something anti-bullying campaigners had been calling for so problems can be spotted and tackled early on. It’s a really backwards step for Michael Gove to scrap it and he should think again.”

He also lambasted the new Coalition Academies because they  “simply opt out and go it alone with no role for local authorities.”

Balls has persistently been a thorn in Gove’s side. Most noteworthy has been his haranguing of the Education Secretary for the calamitous mishandling of the slashing of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, and for railroading the Academies Bill through parliament, when far fewer than the claimed 700 schools applied for Academy status.

This has had results. On Saturday, Left Foot Forward reported the defection to Labour of a senior Tory Councilor, who had been incensed by Gove’s cuts. Elaine Costigan complained that “This community has been treated with utter contempt by the government over the slashing of the school building programme.” The Conservatives are said to be “totally shocked” at the development.

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