A LEADING Coventry Labour councillor has responded to revelations about the controversial new company he set up to run schools as academies, saying it resulted from regular approaches to him by the government and others.
But councillor David Kershaw, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for education, said his West Midlands Academy Trust will not ‘be involved’ in the beleaguered Perry Beeches academy which runs five troubled academy and free schools in Birmingham, despite earlier speculation of a takeover.
Coun Kershaw was responding to the Coventry Observer after we revealed details of the trust company set up last month, registered to his Coventry address with the involvement of two Coventry school heads, fellow Labour local election candidate Alan East, and others.
Coun Kershaw, in a statement released to us, also sought to play down any suggestion of political hypocrisy, as a Labour councillor and long-time passionate advocate of the state comprehensive education system run by local councils.
As we reported last week, the Labour city council has sought to work pragmatically in partnership with schools which have become academies. But Labour locally and nationally has been campaigning against the government’s push towards free schools and converting all council maintained schools into academies, with direct government funding.
His Labour colleagues running the council were opposed to widescale academies expansion but by 2012 Coventry’s secondary schools were volunteering to convert – under pressure from government, claimed city Labour politicians.
Coun Kershaw is also a former head of Coundon Court School in Coventry, and was part of intervention teams sent into failing schools nationally under the previous Labour government.
Coun Kershaw’s statement reads: “Politically, I am implacably opposed to forced academisation and passionately believe that good local authority education departments, led by excellent and committed officers, in partnership with head teachers and governors and with strong political support and leadership, can provide the best schools and support for children and young people.
“But I am also a pragmatist, as are my political colleagues on Coventry City Council. The government is absolutely committed to turn all schools into academies and when this became clear several years ago we took the decision that we would not let the children of Coventry down by refusing to work in partnership with academies and free schools.
“My priority has always been to the children and young people in Coventry and doing what I can to give them the best possible start in life. That priority has driven me for many years and has never diminished.
“But I have also been asked, again over many years, to give help, advice and support to schools across the country who want to improve and successive governments have asked me to do this work on their behalf.
“So my involvement in helping children across the country get a better education is nothing new; it is something I have been doing for many years and something I want to continue to do as long as others feel I can offer some expertise, advice and support to schools.
“The Department for Education and other local education authorities approach me on a regular basis to share what we have done in Coventry by working alongside and in partnership with academies to deliver the best possible education for our young people. Coventry is seen as leading the way in this area.
“As a consequence West Midlands Academy Trust – a charitable trust which would not take any profit from its work – has been set up in order to provide wider support to schools. Contrary to national and local speculation it will not be involved in the Perry Beeches academy chain.
“The trust has had no conversations with the council with regards to any Coventry school. If the work of the Trust develops over the coming months I will ensure there is no conflict of interest with my role as Cabinet Member for Education in Coventry; I will continue to make the right decisions for Coventry children – just as I have always done.”
The Department for Education, playing down speculation it had been setting up Coun Kershaw’s firm for a takeover of the five Birmingham schools, said: “We continue to work with Perry Beeches the Academy Trust to make sure it complies with the terms of the financial notice to improve.”