Labour to seek more local oversight of free schools and academies

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The shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, has said a Labour government would bring academies and free schools under greater local authority oversight – including over school place planning and failing institutions – but she admitted the party would take time to think through the policy.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme before Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Labour party’s conference in Brighton, Powell said the party would not return free schools to local authority control, but would allow local government to intervene where necessary.

“I think the idea that the secretary of state herself can manage and oversee and support all those schools directly is wrong-headed,” she said. “We should have local oversight of those schools. It’s not the same as how we used to have local government control. We will work through the exact detail of that.”

She added: “We need to have the ability for local authority and others to intervene in some failing academies as well, not just what we’ve seen under this government, which has been a real focus on failure in [local authority-run] schools.”

Speaking to the Guardian during the leadership campaign, Corbyn said: “I am not a supporter of the principle of free schools and academies, and I would want to bring them all back into the local authority orbit.”

Powell insists her proposals can be married with the broad thrust of the policies put forward by Corbyn during his leadership campaign. Her predecessor, Tristram Hunt, suggested the new model of combined authorities such as in Greater Manchester could be the right level at which standards in academies and free schools could be monitored, and greater co-operation between schools encouraged. Powell is likely to go further in giving powers to authorities.

Speaking to the BBC, Powell said Corbyn’s speech would be an opportunity for him to communicate directly with the public.

“Jeremy is at the very start of his leadership of the Labour party. I think the public don’t really know him yet,” she said. “The leader’s speech at the annual conference is an opportunity to directly communicate with the public through the TV screens. That’s the chance he will seek to take today, to reassure people that his values are their values.”

Speaking later to ITV, Powell confirmed that she and other members of the shadow cabinet had been consulted on the contents of Corbyn’s speech.

Powell, who ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign in 2010 and was vice-chair of Labour’s 2015 general election campaign, said the new leader’s style was “very open, very democratic, listening to people and taking their advice”.

She said: “Things are very volatile in politics, things are changing quickly. The balls have been all thrown up in the air in the Labour party by Jeremy’s victory, and I’m pleased to play my part in trying to bring those balls back into play and set out our stall ahead of the next general election.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Frances Perraudin and Patrick Wintour, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 29th September 2015 09.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010