Francis Beckett

Academies haven’t been much in evidence during the election, because there’s a cosy consensus between Labour and Tories.  Labour wants these privatised schools; the Conservatives want more of them.

But I’ve been talking to a parent with a definite view about who to vote for in her South Dorset constituency, if you’re against the extraordinarily Stalinist academy proposal on the Isle of Portland.

Sian Thomas-Cutts says: vote for Ros Kayes, the Liberal Democrat, for South Dorset.

Sian has two children at one of the island’s junior schools, and she’s a governor there. The proposed academy would be an all-through school, so all six junior schools would close.  “At the moment, if you don’t like the regime at one of them, you can send your child to another” she says.  “They’re taking away all parental choice.”

She asked the local Labour MP Jim Knight what a parent could do if they didn’t like the regime. Knight’s reply was: “You get on a bus and go to Weymouth.”

Knight has driven the academy idea hard. New Labour MPs have to do that, it’s a kind of loyalty test – promotion doesn’t come easily to a New Labour MP who hasn’t got an academy in his or her constituency. “It’s one of Jim Knight’s pet projects” Sian tells me.

The Tory candidate is also in favour of it.

But Liberal Democrat Ros Kayes, a former teacher who knows the harm it will do, has come out firmly against it.

The constituency has turned into a Labour-Tory marginal, so the danger is that by voting for Ms Kayes, you let the Tory in.  But right up to 1992 it was a Liberal/Tory marginal, and could be so again.  The dynamic and intelligent Ms Kayes could just pull it off.

Sian says: “There’s no proper consultation, it’s just talk and spin.  They have cut the consultation period down from six months to three months. They have told us the secondary school can’t have new buildings without the academy.”

The sponsor was to be United Learning Trust, who have distinguished themselves by taking all the extra government money available for academies and still manage to run a failing school.  ULT dropped out and now the sponsor is an individual, Professor Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University, who’s apparently an expert in education and IT.

Professor Heppell, if the proposal goes through, will have absolute control of the schooling of all the island’s children.  Activist parents like Sian will be squeezed out. Professor Heppell’s word will be law.

I’ve voted labour all my life, but if I were a South Dorset voter, my hand would drop off before I voted for the man who has steamrollered this wretched scheme through.