Liberal Democrats vote against new academies set to open in Birmingham
New academies will open in Birmingham despite an overwhelming vote against them at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, the city’s deputy leader has pledged.
Delegates at the party’s conference in Liverpool dealt an embarrassing blow to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, when they backed a motion criticising academies and calling for a boycott of so-called “free schools”.
It means the Liberal Democrat party is opposed to the education policies of the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition government.
But Sheldon Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Tilsley, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, said the city would press ahead with academies anyway.
He said: “I don’t think it will make any difference at all to what happens in Birmingham.”
Coun Tilsley said academies could cause problems in rural areas and smaller towns, but not in large cities such as Birmingham.
The Government wants to give every school the chance to become an academy, and told headteachers at schools with an Ofsted rating of “outstanding” that they could become academies without going through the usual red tape.
Increasing the number of academies is one of the coalition Government’s key education policies, along with creating new “free schools” led by parents or the private sector.
In Birmingham, an education trust connected with a Sikh temple plans to open a secondary school and a junior school under the free schools scheme.
But Lib Dem delegates specifically criticised the number of free schools linked to faiths, as they passed a motion accusing them of “increasing the amount of discrimination on religious grounds in pupil admissions.”
Internal tensions were starkly highlighted just hours before Mr Clegg took to the stage for his keynote speech.
Attempts by the leadership to water down the criticism by removing claims that the policy would increase “social divisiveness and inequity” were resoundingly thrown out following a passionate debate in the packed hall.
Few spoke up in favour of the policy despite Education Minister Sarah Teather warning that the boycott would be “fundamentally illiberal” and the scale of the majority in favour sent a clear message to the party leadership.
Although the activists’ vote does not change Government policy, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes insisted that the party “can stop things happening”.
Labour’s shadow children and education secretary Ed Balls, said: “This is another blow for the coalition’s unpopular, flawed and deeply unfair school reforms.”