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Schools minister Nick Gibb jeered at by teachers over academy plans

Published 04/04/2016

Schools minister Nick Gibb was heckled at a question and answer session with teachers
Schools minister Nick Gibb was heckled at a question and answer session with teachers

Schools minister Nick Gibb drew laughter, jeers and heckles from teachers as he stated the case for the Government's flagship academisation plans.

The Bognor MP failed to win over members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union when he took part in a question-and-answer session at their conference in Liverpool on Monday, as educational professionals continued to raise concerns over plans to strip 17,000 English primaries from state control and make them privately run within six years.

Asked to defend the Government's education White Paper, which has been widely rejected by teachers, unions and Tory local councillors, Mr Gibb said: "I'm spending time talking to colleagues who have expressed a concern.

"But the whole academies programme is about having a profession-led system, so that the profession is in charge and not local authority officials. That's the system we're moving to.

"If you talk to headteachers who become heads of academies, they have flourished."

One audience member shouted "rubbish" while a handful of others jeered and some laughed at the minister's suggestions.

Teaching staff have raised concerns over quality and accountability that the so-called "fragmentation" of the education system would cause. The academisation plans, announced in the Budget last month, prompted protests from unions in cities across the country who said they were concerned about removing schools from local authority control.

Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) already voted to ballot for strike action after outright rejecting the Government's controversial academies plan.

The NUT, meeting at their annual conference in Brighton on March 26, voted overwhelmingly against privatisation.

Despite the vitriol, the NUT's collective defiance may yet fall on deaf ears in Whitehall, after Education Secretary Nicky Morgan ruled out the prospect of a Government U-turn over academisation.

She told the NASUWT conference in Birmingham last month there would be "no pulling back" and "no reverse gear" on the Government's education reforms, including the controversial roll-out of academy schools in England.

Support for academisation has been hard to find from teaching staff, who staged marches around the country in defiance over the plans.

Labour said the scheme would face a £1.1 billion funding shortfall, an accusation described by the Government as "completely untrue".

Speaking in Liverpool, Mr Gibb said: "They're not right, they haven't taken into account money made available in the Spending Review. Labour, when they did their calculations, did not look at that.

"We want there to be more autonomy in the schools academy system. People will make mistakes from time to time but we have a much more rigorous scrutiny over academies than maintained schools. The scrutiny is much greater than it's ever been.

"Transparency is the greatest disinfectant."

Asked if he accepted there was a recruitment crisis, based on research by the ATL that four in five teachers have thought about leaving the profession as concerns about workload escalate, Mr Gibb said: "I think it's a big challenge."

He said: "I talk to head teachers all the time, and they tell me how difficult it is to recruit maths teachers and foreign languages teachers.

"But I don't think we should be talking down the teaching profession. It's a great profession to be in and that's the message I convey."

Mr Gibb also responded to comments made by the Department for Education (DfE) last week following research by the ATL that some female pupils "kept quiet" in the classroom over fears male pupils would find them "a swot" rather than attractive.

In a statement released after the ATL's research, the DfE said: "It's stories like this - with no evidence to back them up - that are exactly why sexism still exists. We should be celebrating the achievements and talents of women and girls rather than focusing on outdated notions."

Challenged on the department's comments, Mr Gibb said: "There is an issue.

"We can't have bullying in our schools, whether it's of girls or boys and I think we've done quite a lot to tackle that.

"But we need to make sure all our schools have the ethos of hard work, whether it's academic, application in sport, the arts, music or just being hard working generally and contributing to school life.

"We want the ethos to be if you work hard and put into your schoollife as a child, that will be something we reward in our school."

The minister was given a round of applause as he left the stage following the 40-minute question-and-answer session.

Dr Mary Bousted, the ATL general secretary, said the minister was "courageous" to come to conference.

She said: "I think Nick Gibb is a true believer, and if you don't agree with him you are wrong. That's why there's such alienation from the teaching profession and that's why he got the reception he did.

"It was, for ATL, quite a hostile reception. He got a round of applause at the end and I think conference members were grateful and wanted to support him for coming along and talking to them.

"But much of what he said does not translate to what they're seeing on the ground or what they're experiencing in their working lives."

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