A Tory revolt is brewing in local government. Many are angry about and opposed to plans to turn all schools in England into academies.Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. The policy will end the link between local authorities and schools that began in 1902. The plans will not apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where education policy is devolved, and where academies do not exist.
Academies were introuduced by Labour under Tony Blair. Under them the academies programme was focused narrowly on transforming "failing" schools in deprived neighbourhoods. This was widened by the Lib/Con and Tory governments which followed.
Schools have been bribed or encouraged into converting to Academies by about a 10 per cent, or more, increase in funding if they do.
In March 2011, a survey of 1,471 head teachers by the Association of School and College Leaders showed that nearly half (46 per cent) had converted their school to academy status, or intended to do so. Three out of four were driven by the belief that such a move would benefit their schools financially, not educationally.
Academies operate outside local authority control and have the freedom to set their own levels of pay for staff, including teachers. Most academy pay scales tend not to vary much from national norms - although head teachers and their deputies in some cases can secure large salaries - but conditions differ. Pat Harrington, general secretary of the Solidarity Trade Union commented:
"There is a degree of ideological motivation behind first using bribery to get schoools to convert to academies and now compulsion. The freedom given to academies to set pay and conditions may lead to a wide variation and a worsening overall."
"Despite government rhethoric there is no certainty that Academies will raise educational standards when applied generally. There have been many questions about the expansion of Academy chains which have grown quicker than their means to deliver. The figures showing good performance are often biased toward the use of vocational qualifications rather than GCSE. That's one reason they've been criticised as being insufficiently academic. Primary schools have tended not to go down the academy route so the evidence base there is even scanter."
Teaching union leaders hope Conservative councillors’ criticism of the government’s education white paper, which aims to abolish local authority control, will help build a “broad church” coalition to force the government into a disability benefits-style U-turn.
The education chief in David Cameron's own Witney constituency spokie out against the plans — which will also see the end of parent governors and a controversial overhaul of qualified teacher status.
Oxfordshire Tory education chief Melinda Tilley told the BBC’s Today programme: “I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that. This is not why I became a Conservative.”
Roger Gough, Conservative councillor in charge of education in Kent, said: "I don't think there is demonstrable evidence that there is a systemic improvement in performance and certainly not anything that would justify upheaval on this scale."
Conservative Peter Edgar, from Hampshire County Council, said: "To force all schools would be ridiculously expensive and in my view the wrong thing to do and also could cause in the interim a drop in standards in all our schools.
"This was not in the [Conservatives' election] manifesto," he said. "This is a step too far."
NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney welcomed their interventions.
“Even their side is so divided,” he said. “We want the broadest possible campaign on this issue."
Even the Tory Bow Group think tank hit out at the government.
“Both [Chancellor] George Osborne and [Education Secretary] Nicky Morgan need to explain why such a significant policy shift was left out of the 2015 Conservative manifesto, and acknowledge that it marks a clear break with the Conservative Party’s previous commitment to localism,” said chairman Ben Harris-Quinney, a Tory councillor in East Hertfordshire.
“This is not what the British public voted for, and I don’t believe what either local authorities or schools want.”