Education Secretary reveals 'many emails of support' for academies plan
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she is "surprised" by the "many emails" and private messages she has received in support of the Government's radical academies plan during a grilling by a panel of MPs.
The secretary of state said she was fully committed to the Government's plan to force around 17,000 mainstream schools in England to be stripped from local authority control and become privatised by 2022, meaning they will be run by trusts rather than councils.
The academies plan, set out in last month's Budget, has drawn criticism from teachers, parents and unions over concerns about quality and cost.
The ATL, NUT and NASUWT unions have all opposed academisation, while teachers and supporters have marched in cities across the country in protest.
Appearing before the Commons education committee, Ms Morgan acknowledged the considerable weight of opposition to the education white paper, but said she had received plenty of support in private.
She joked: "We haven't had the pitchforks yet, but perhaps I should look outside the committee room when I leave."
The minister told MPs: "Any changes, any clear vision, is going to be met with some challenges.
"I do, surprisingly, get many emails of support from people and conversations saying: 'You're doing the right thing, keep going'.
"As always, as we know, those who are against something find it very easy to be vocal."
She said others "rushed after" her during a recent public appearance to say "we agree with you", but that they preferred to do so "privately".
Two petitions against academisation have attracted around 300,000 signatures since the Budget was announced.
Asked if she was "fully committed" to the plan, a cornerstone of the Conservative education reforms, Ms Morgan replied: "Yes. That is the Government's position."
It came amid further signs of a climbdown by David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions when he confirmed academies would still be able to "work with councils".
Appearing before the committee, Ms Morgan denied an accusation from Labour MP for Gateshead Ian Mearns that the Government would be "inflicting" change on state-run schools which were already successful.
She said: "I don't think it's a question of inflicting anything on anybody.
"I think it is a question of offering people the opportunity to be autonomous and run themselves."
Asked by Mr Mearns whether schools could opt-out of the change - something there has been no scope for during previous discussions - Ms Morgan replied: " If a school is good or outstanding, we want to support other schools.
"Just because schools in Gateshead are very good, there may be other schools in the area that could benefit from having the support of a good or outstanding school."
Asked three times by Dudley North Labour MP Ian Austin why academisation did not feature in the Conservative election manifesto last year, t he secretary of state replied: "We've looked at the failing and coastal schools, looked at the numbers, looked at the finances.
"This is an opportunity to build a stronger system."
Committee chairman Neil Carmichael thanked Ms Morgan for answering 21 questions plus follow-ups during her two-and-a-half-hour appearance before MPs, to which she joked: "It's a bit like Mastermind, isn't it."