Opinion: Get your facts right Polly

In yesterday’s Guardian Polly Toynbee criticises “casual law-making by arbitrary diktat” in relation to the unseemly haste with which the Academies Bill is being shunted through the Commons. She claims the bill was “catapulted” through the Lords (where, by the way, we debated it for a full 31 hours!) and that there is now “no revising chamber: a redundant House of Lords whipped this Bill through with as little scrutiny as it will get in the Commons”. Wrong!

Far from being redundant, the House of Lords obtained five important amendments and numerous significant statements on the record, one of them a Labour amendment which the Lib Dems deliberately allowed through by abstaining. The amendments which were inserted were a duty for applicant schools to consult with appropriate people and groups before converting to an academy; parity with maintained schools on duties towards children with special needs; funding for children with expensive low-incidence special needs to remain with the local authority; the Secretary of State must produce an annual report to Parliament on the progress of the academy programme which will give Parliament the opportunity to probe many contentious matters about the policy; the Secretary of State, in considering an application for a new school, must take into account the impact on existing schools in the area.

So Polly’s statement that “governors of schools need not consult anyone before gaining independence” is wrong.

Her claim that academies will not have to co-operate in partnership with other schools in the area on exclusions and behaviour is wrong.

Her claim that a new faith academy will never be able to turn secular is wrong.

Her claim that schools do not realise what they will have to pay for with the extra money directed to them rather than through the local authority is wrong and patronising. They know only too well. That’s why they are thinking very hard about it.

While I share her concern that the programme may lead to more new faith schools, of which I am not a fan, I think her article is lazy and slapdash and hope that Liberal Democrat colleagues will prefer to believe my article, to appear in this week’s Lib Dem News, in preference to her “casual and arbitrary” journalism. I trust the commonsense of schools who will carefully weigh up the pros and cons, talk to their parents, children, staff, community and local authorities (all “appropriate groups” as referred to in the amended Bill) and decide what is right for them.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliament.


  • Andrea Gill 21st Jul '10 - 9:31am

    Getting her facts right isn’t exactly Polly’s strength 😉

  • Why don’t you apply to CIF to write an article as a balancing exercise?

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jul '10 - 12:02pm

    Given that even the Tory chairman of the education select committee believes this legislation is being rushed, I think Toynbee is entirely right about that.

    It would nice to see some debate on the substantive issues st stake here – social segregation, inequality, the nightmare prospect of creationist schools – rather than the usual load of unsavoury abuse of Polly Toynbee.

  • Two weak attacks below the line. It’s easier to shoot the messenger than face facts.

    This is being rushed through and given the possible, long lasting implications – this is irresponsible.

    Andrea Gill, Stephen W – I take everything Polly says with a large helping of salt. Whereas our party seems to be swallowing everything Gove says. Hook, line and sinker.

  • It is common for people in the media to accuse those of us in politics of having fixed opinions that don’t take account of the facts. This, we know, is true of some people, but not of most of us.

    The problem for the media is that they are more guilty of the ‘sin’ that they ascribe to us than we are – and Polly Toynbee is, in this regard, as bad as Richard Littlejohn. They form an opinion and woe betide anyone who seeks to change their minds by pointing out their errors. I’d like to think she would admit she was wrong but I won’t hold my breath!

  • The bill states that a maintained school must only consult those who the governing body deem ‘appropriate’ prior to converting to an academy and not necessarily before the order to become an academy has been made by the Secretary of State, only prior to the conversion date. This certainly leaves open the possibility of conversion to independence without consultation. There does not seem to be any mechanism for the consultation to halt or change the conversion date, which will be contained within the order. So the bill seems to say that a maintained school’s govenors can apply for independence, the order can be approved by the Secretary of State, the date at which the school will cease to be maintained by the local authority will be set in the order and only then will it be necessary for the governing body to decide whether there are any appropriate people or groups with whom they should consult and there is no provision for that consultation to change the order in any way. The statement that there is no need to consult imposed upon governors looks pretty accurate to me.
    The bill says that exclusions will follow the rules governing maintained schools as they presently stand i.e. that excluded pupils become the responsiblity of the Local Authority. I can’t see any reference to Ed Balls’ present behaviour partnerships in the bill or anything equivalent, which as Ms. Toynbee actually says, are gone.
    A faith school will have to be declared such by the Secretary of State on application and it seems to be the case that changing such a designation would be at the determination of the Secretary of State and not the desire of the school. One clause does seem to say that the designation will be set at the time of conversion and seems to imply that will be perpetual but I haven’t yet found the exact clause to which Ms. Toynbee refers and there doesn’t seem to be an explicit one so I’ll have to agree with you on this one, her journalism is casual and arbitrary, I’ll refuse to believe a word she ever says on anything again.
    I can’t see the part of the article where she says that schools do not realise what they will have to pay for, only the part where she explains to the uninitiated, like me, how they go about finding out and that it includes small print implying that the government are trying to make it more difficult for them and that an accurate assessment of cost is hard. I suppose that could mean that she is calling all teachers idiots, sorry, patronising them.
    However I must conclude that there is sufficient in your re-writing of Ms. Toynbee’s words to suggest that if she had written exactly what you say she has written then her disquiet at the school reforms and the way in which government is legislating should be dismissed out of hand as the rantings of a fact dodging weasley faced liar.

    I think that Ms. Toynbee was right about the need for consultation and that you were wrong, I also note that you are party spokesperson for a governing party on these matters maybe implying a bias, does that mean that I should dismiss the substantive issues in your forthcoming article as you and your more colourfully insulting friends have done with Ms. Toynbee’s?

  • Tony Greaves 21st Jul '10 - 1:20pm

    It was (wrongly) pushed through the Lords a bit faster than usual, but that did not stop pretty full scrutiny (including vigorous criticism and scrutiny from the LD benches, ably led by Joan) – and as Joan says some changes. But don’t expect national journalists to know that because they pay little or no attention to what teh Lords does on Bills! Toynbee’s piece was indeed a sloppy piece of journalism.

    On the other hand the way the Bill is being railroaded through the Commons is a disgrace. It is a particular disgrace that the LD MPs (and indeed the LDs in the coalition government) hvae allowed this to happen.

    This is a lousy Bill that should never have appeared as it did (it is not even in the coalition agreement). But once it appeared, to push it through as if it it about a national emergency, smashing through all the proper conventions in the Commons (whcih are there for very good democratic reasons) is something that the coalition may live to rue. It is a very very bad precendent for a parliament whcih was supposed to be something of a new dawn in democratic accountability.

    Tony Greaves

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