“All parties, you see, are coalitions.”
So whispered Ken Clarke in my ear on Monday in the House of Commons. It was his explanation for what we were witnessing. Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, had come to the despatch box to confirm that the Government would not be proceeding with its proposal in the White Paper to compel schools to become academies.
I was delighted by the change of heart. I had been one of the group of backbenchers who was uncomfortable about the plan – hence Ken Clarke’s point about coalitions. Whilst academies have been a huge success in many parts of the country (just look at our outstanding schools in Cheltenham) I made clear that I’m not convinced that this justifies a one-size-fits-all solution. If we believe in trusting teachers and governors – which I do – then so long as their school is good or outstanding we should leave it to them to decide what governance arrangements suit them best. Some will no doubt want to look carefully at the very positive experience of pupils and teachers at Rowanfield Junior School, part of a hugely successful Cheltenham multi-academy trust (MAT). But it’s a matter for them.
That was the point I made to Nicky Morgan when I invited her to Cheltenham recently. And to her credit, she listened and thought again. Now we can get back to the vital job of continuing to drive up education standards which were plunging down the international rankings pre-2010. Thanks to our dedicated teachers they are now being turned around.
Here in Cheltenham, I am pressing on in my drive to help mothers struggling to breast feed when their baby is born with tongue-tie. It is a condition which can cause pretty desperate anxiety. After a detailed discussion with our superb midwives in Cheltenham General, it is clear that care here in Gloucestershire is very good. But together with local mothers I am pushing to see if we can go a step further. Let’s see Gloucestershire established as the undisputed leader in national best practice in tongue-tie. I welcome the constructive dialogue with local experts.
Finally, congratulations to all those – Conservative, Lib Dem, PAB and Independent – who were elected as councillors last week. Whatever their political differences, the councillors I have met share a common commitment to serve our great town and its people. I wish them well.