Thinking outside the hexagon: Schools under Labour would be free to enjoy same freedoms as academies

‘More freedom for everyone!’ Labour to drown schools in academy perks

‘More freedom for everyone!’ Labour to drown schools in academy perks

Labour has unveiled its plan to neutralise Michael Gove's academies – by making their perks available to all schools.

The policy switch effectively ends years of opposition from Labour to free schools by expanding their autonomy on issues like their approach to the national curriculum and where they find extra teaching support.

Conservatives in government have responded with scorn, pointing out that until recently Labour's policy was to take away freedoms over the curriculum away from academies.

Now that approach is being comprehensively abandoned with a speech from shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg at the Royal Society of Arts.

"We know that giving schools more freedom over how they teach and how they run and organise their schools can help to raise standards. So why should we deny those freedoms to thousands of schools?" he said.

"All schools should have them – not just academies and free schools. A school should not have to change its structure just to gain freedoms. In a 'one nation' system, freedoms would be granted to all schools and innovation would be spread across the system."

All schools, including academies, must teach a 'broad and balanced' curriculum which includes English, mathematics science and religious education.

Teachers will be allowed to shake up their approach to lessons under the changes, however, by emphasising specific areas or teaching approaches.

One school in Gloucestershire cited by Labour as an example introduced "a drive on outdoor education" and an increased use of technology.

The switch would also see a Labour government give the green light to schools wanting to extend school term lengths – a recent proposal of Gove's – and allow them to change the way they buy their services.

Another major shift being proposed by Twigg is an emphasis on creating a 'system of widespread collaboration' in which schools work with others to help improve overall standards.

Only 39% of academies are currently in a 'collaborative chain' leaving the rest as 'singletons', a drift which Twigg blamed Gove for.

"A lack of collaboration poses a risk for school standards," he added.

"The lowest performing schools in the OECD have autonomy but no collaborative culture. We need more school freedoms and a collaborative culture to spread that innovation and best practice."

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers offered a broadly positive response to Twigg's speech and backed the call for stronger partnerships between schools.

But general secretary Mary Bousted warned that curriculum freedoms came with risks. She said: "Stephen Twigg is right to encourage schools to innovate, but a light touch framework national curriculum should not come at the expense of an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils."