In a new curb on the use of judicial review to challenge decisions by public bodies, the government today pledged to stop legal actions that hold up the conversion of local authority schools in England into academies directly funded by Whitehall.
Under the Education and Adoption Bill, every school rated as ‘inadequate’ by inspectors will be turned into an academy.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan (pictured) today unveiled plans to speed up the process, saying that conversions take on average 13 months. This could be cut to two months by removing ‘legal loopholes’, she said.
The government has faced a number of legal challenges in recent years when trying to turn existing schools into academies.
The biggest teaching union criticised the government’s proposals as a ‘crude attack’ on legal rights.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘It is surely essential to the democratic process that those who seek to oppose and put brakes on the hasty and un-evidenced actions of government are allowed to be heard.’
Morgan told the BBC this morning that legal challenges are preventing positive change in up to 1,000 schools that are performing poorly.
‘We have seen in some schools those objecting [to academies] have launched judicial review, there have been appeals and objections and all the time children have been left in a school that is failing.’
She added: ‘Today’s landmark bill will allow the best education experts to intervene in poor schools from the first day we spot failure. It will sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children.’
John Ford, a principal at north London firm John Ford Solicitors with expertise in public law and education law, said the key objection in the proposals is the removal of parents’ right to be consulted.
‘There is an alarming parallel between the proposals in this bill and the determination by the previous lord chancellor to prevent legal disputes getting in the way of development plans,’ said Ford. ‘This irritating existence of access to the courts to challenge government decision-making seems to be behind the perpetuation of the view that a legal intervention delays progress.’