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Government climbdown over forced academies plan in England

Plans to force all of England's schools to become academies are being abandoned in a government climbdown.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan hopes the concessions will meet the demands of Tory rebels opposed to compelling high-performing schools to convert.

This was about the government listening, she said, adding ministers understood top schools should retain the choice on whether to convert.

The move comes days after threats of industrial action by head teachers.

Academies are independently run - but state-funded - schools, overseen by a not-for-profit business, known as an academy trust. They are often part of a chain.

The controversial plans to require all schools to convert to academy status, or have plans to do so, by 2022 were announced in the Budget.

'Choice to convert'

It was not long before opposition to the idea was heard from teachers and head teachers, education experts and MPs and councillors - both Conservative and opposition.

Mrs Morgan told the BBC in an interview: "This is about being a listening government and I would consider myself to be a listening Secretary of State.

"Better to have reforms than have none at all.

"We absolutely support those strong local authorities where schools are good and outstanding they can make the choice to convert.

"I hope that they will because we are convinced that becoming academies does lift standards but they can do the right thing for them and I think that reflects the concerns and the conversations that we have had."

Conservatives have been voicing opposition to the plans in recent weeks, particularly because all schools - even highly performing ones - were to be forced into the new arrangements.


Melinda Tilley, an Oxfordshire county councillor, complained of "diktats from above" and expressed concerns about small village schools closing.

Labour had argued that the academies programme was already hitting problems, with a number of large-scale trusts being sanctioned for failing to improve results fast enough.

Ministers countered that the new landscape would provide a high level of autonomy to schools, and help drive up standards through greater innovation and competition in the system.

Currently all schools can choose to convert to academy status, but those deemed to be struggling or failing to improve sufficiently, can be forced to convert. That will remain the case under these new plans.

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