First the UK government completes a massive u-turn in welfare benefit reform and now it looks as though it may have to complete another.
Having dropped (at least for the time being) the planned changes to the Personal Independence Payment, which would have left many people with disabilities far worse off financially, now it is having to reconsider its plans that all state schools will be required to become academies within six years.
Both the PIP changes and the schools to academies plan were part of George Osborne’s March seemingly ill-fated budget and a second u-turn would be seen as an embarrassment for him and is likely to add to calls to remove him from his position of chancellor of the exchequer.
However, a second u-turn is what the government is facing and may be forced to do – because of a backbench revolt of its own MPs.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Conservative backbenchers are calling for the policy to be dropped or at least amended to remove the part to force all state schools to become academies.
MPs have called on education secretary Nicky Morgan to ensure that the plans are not included in the Queen’s speech on May 18, following warnings from Conservative whips that they face inevitable defeat in the House of Commons. What’s more, she has been asked to appear before the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers with many of the party’s own MPs demanding that she goes back to the drawing board to avoid a parliamentary bloodbath.
With a majority of just 17 in the Commons, Tory whips believe legislation on ‘forced academisation’ would have no chance of passing through parliament unless the policy was watered down and the compulsory element removed, the Guardian added.
Since the academies plan was announced, Conservatives in local government, backed by MPs, have spoken out against what they say would be an unwanted and costly ‘top-down’ reorganisation of thousands of schools, including many judged as good or outstanding by Ofsted.
Speaking to the Observer newspaper, Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said that there might be a place for limited legislation on aspects of school reform in the Queen’s speech – such as measures to help schools leave academy trusts they found unsatisfactory and to define more clearly the future role of local education authorities – but the element of compulsion should be dropped.
“Good academies can bring enormous benefits and it is right that we should be helping those that want to convert to do so but I hope the white paper will be adapted to reflect the need to support and ease the process, rather than impose the change in areas where schools are already performing very well,” he said.
Opponents of the plans complain that the white paper proposes that local councils would still be under a legal obligation to find places for all children in their areas, but would lack the power either to build new schools or force academies to expand in order to provide them. Many believe they will weaken the role of parent governors and put schools in the hands of remote, inexperienced new management.
Indeed, to add to the chancellor’s woes, the Conservative-dominated County Councils Network (CCN), which represents local authorities with education responsibilities, has said that the government’s new national funding formula for schools, coupled with plans to force them to become academies, could harm councils’ ability to support young children and those with the greatest need.