Friday, July 30, 2010

Michael Gove's academy plan under fire as scale of demand emerges.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has had a shaky start in government, where he has already had to apologise to House for making 25 errors when making a speech about schooling.

Now, he appears to be in trouble again as it has been revealed that a mere 153 schools have applied to become academies, when he had attempted to rush legislation through parliament by stating that more than a thousand schools had applied.

The shadow education secretary, Ed Balls, accused Gove of "railroading" the legislation through parliament, and demanded that he explain why he "misleadingly claimed that more than 1,000 schools had applied". Balls, a contender for the Labour leadership, added: "It seems to me that the real reason for the rush was to avoid proper scrutiny for a deeply flawed piece of legislation."

Gove is already under attack from MPs, teachers and councils for a bungled announcement over whether hundreds of schools' plans for new buildings would go ahead.

He was forced to apologise in the Commons earlier this month after his office ignored advice to check an error-strewn list of cancelled building projects before it was published. The list suggested that many school building programmes would go ahead that had in fact been cancelled.

In relation to the academies, the department issued a press release on 2 June quoting Gove as saying: "The response has been overwhelming. In just one week, over 1,100 schools have applied." He added: "Of these, 626 are outstanding schools, including over 250 primary schools, nearly 300 secondary schools (over half of all the outstanding secondary schools in the country) and over 50 special schools."

Now the mistake might simply be that Gove confused schools which expressed an interest in his scheme with schools making an actual application, but he is in danger of becoming a liability for the new Con-Dem coalition.

How many times can this man make pronouncements which turn out to be false?

Teachers' leaders condemned the government tonight for acting too hastily over academies.

"Our education system is too important to be subject to acting in haste, but repenting at leisure," said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

"We remain concerned that many of the schools which have applied won't have carried out any form of consultation. Democracy will not be well served if children, parents and staff first learn of their school's plans to become an academy from the media."

She added that it would be "interesting to see if the list of schools applying to become an academy is as accurate, or not" as the error-ridden list that informed schools whether their building projects were to be scrapped.

It will, indeed, be interesting. Gove is fast becoming a walking gaffe machine. Nothing he says turns out to be true.

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