Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Academy Plan Fears for Rural Primaries

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Academy Plan Fears for Rural Primaries

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor jon.walker@trinitymirror.com @jonwalker121

ANORTH East Conservative MP has met government ministers to express concern about plans to force schools to become academies.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick in Northumberland, said she was worried about the effect of the policy on successful rural primary schools.

And local council leaders have also warned that plans to turn all schools into academies could lead to a "poorer education system".

The County Councils Network said the plan set out in a government White Paper could see small schools left without the support they need.

It represents 37 county and unitary councils, including Northumberland County Council and Durham County Council. The government has said it will not back down on plans to ensure every remaining council-funded school, known as a "maintained" school, converts to become an academy by 2022.

But Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has signalled she will consider making it easier for councils to form their own multi-academy trusts, in an apparent attempt to head off a rebellion by backbench Conservative MPs.

At the moment, councils would have to set up non-profit companies to become trusts, but there are hints this requirement could be waived.

The change might answer criticism from some MPs that councils will continue to have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place, but no means of fulfilling this duty because they will be barred from setting up schools.

However, it will not address a separate criticism that has been levelled by some MPs, who argue that many primary schools are fine as they are.

Mrs Trevelyan says she supports academies, but she added: "I have concerns about the speed at which the department wants to push this forward and have met with ministers already to discuss the practical framework that we need them to provide for the primary sector in particular where, in rural constituencies like mine, a very large number of small schools is the norm. …

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