Control over all schools admissions should be handed back to local education authorities as part of a reform process that would see the eventual phasing out of academies and free schools, Andy Burnham will announce.
In a move that goes further than the Labour election manifesto, Burnham will pledge on Thursday to revitalise comprehensive education as he rejects “the growing market of free schools and academies”.
The announcement by Burnham on education will form the centrepiece of his leadership manifesto, which will be seen as an attempt to reach out to Labour members on traditional themes in the face of a formidable challenge from Jeremy Corbyn.
Burnham announced on Wednesday that he would renationalise the railways “line by line” if he becomes prime minister, as he promised to end the “fragmentation and privatisation” of the rail system. A special national rail governing body will be set up to encourage public bidding for rail franchises and new rules to ensure that all rolling stock would carry uniform National Rail livery regardless of whether the operating company is in the private sector.
The Burnham camp took heart from a poll released by the Opinium polling company, which shows that the shadow health secretary is the preferred choice among Labour voters. Burnham is on 39% compared with 24% for Corbyn, 22% for Yvette Cooper and 15% for Liz Kendall.
But senior Labour figures believe that Corbyn is building up an apparently unstoppable momentum among Labour party members and new registered supporters, who can vote in the leadership contest if they pay £3 and sign a statement making a commitment to Labour values. Around 70,000 registered supporters and affiliated supporters have joined up since the election while a further 75,000 members have joined in the same period.
Amid fears that disruptive elements on the left and right are seeking to infiltrate the leadership contest, Harriet Harman has written to every Labour MP with a list of the names of the new members and registered supporters who have signed up in their constituencies. The Labour leadership, which is asking all MPs to check whether any of the new members and supporters are genuinely committed to the Labour party, scored something of a coup when they discovered that the former Conservative children’s minister Tim Loughton had signed up.
A Labour spokesperson said: “We would like to thank him for his generous donation to the Labour party – which we are keeping. If he wants to donate more money he is very welcome to do so via our website.”
Burnham will move on Thursday to show that he is prepared to act in a more radical way than Ed Miliband when he outlines plans to phase out academies and free schools. The Labour party said in its manifesto for the general election in May that it would end the free schools programme. But it indicated that existing free schools and academies would be left alone.
The shadow health secretary wants all academies and free schools to be phased out, ensuring that they are replaced by comprehensives under LEA control to ensure there is local control over admissions.
Burnham will say in his manifesto: “I believe in comprehensive education. I will bring forward a new vision to reinvigorate it for the 21st century, based on true parity between academic and technical education. I will restore a local role in overseeing schools, rejecting the growing market of free schools and academies.”
A source in the Burnham camp said: “What one school does on admissions policies affects all schools and pupils in a local community. It is wrong that there is no accountability for free schools and academies to that community. So control over admissions will be put back in local hands. This is not about Westminster imposing an approach – it is about giving local communities the power to decide on vital issues like admissions policies for local schools.”
In a Guardian interview last weekend Burnham said that his manifesto would end the “snobbery” of the education system, which values academic excellence over achievements in technical education. The manifesto says: “For decades, Westminster has discriminated against those wanting a technical education. I want young people who aspire to apprenticeships to have the same clarity, ambition and sense of purpose as those who aspire to go to university.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010