Just 153 schools apply for academy status

Michael Gove claimed last month that figure was over 1,100, as education bill was rushed through par

Oh dear, Michael Gove. The man hailed as one of the brightest and best incoming Tory MPs has made yet another error.

It has emerged that only 153 schools have applied to become academies under his flagship "free schools" policy.

This is slightly surprising, given that, on 2 June, he issued this statement:

The response has been overwhelming. In just one week, over 1,100 schools have applied. Of these, 626 are outstanding schools, including over 250 primary schools, nearly 300 secondary schools (over half of all the outstanding secondary schools in the country) and over 50 special schools.

This supposed high demand was used as a justification for fast-tracking the bill through parliament before the summer recess, which began this week. In a highly dubious move, it was passed in just three days, using emergency parliamentary powers.

One problematic aspect of Gove's statement -- apart from its inaccuracy -- is that it is hardly just a bungled figure plucked from the top of his head: it gives a detailed breakdown of the figures.

The shadow education secretary and Labour leadership hopeful Ed Balls has called on Gove to explain why he "misleadingly claimed that more than 1,000 schools had applied", adding:

It seems to me that the real reason for the rush was to avoid proper scrutiny for a deeply flawed piece of legislation.

Gove is already skating on thin ice, after a litany of errors over lists of cancelled school-building projects.

So, what is the real story? Was Gove being deliberately deceptive, as Balls implies? It is possible, but as recent past example has shown, he does not seem to be one for detail (and nor does the department under him).

The Department for Education reportedly revealed a list of 1,907 schools that had expressed interest in becoming academies, so it is possible that Gove failed to make the distinction between interest and actual applications.

More schools will probably apply for academy status in due course, but given that initial demand is far lower than stated, and none of the schools is likely to change status by September, it will be difficult to justify the speed with which the legislation was forced through.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.