Education secretary Michael Gove has threatened to turn a group of struggling primary schools into academies – and blamed council bosses for getting in the way.

In a letter to East Sussex MPs, Mr Gove delivered a withering assessment of the county’s primary schools, saying “too many schools continue to underperform”.

In a broadside to the county council, he said academies were the best way to turn the schools around and accused the local authority of failing to pursue “sponsored academy solutions”.

In the letter – one of only two sent to local authorities across the country due to poor school performance – he wrote: “One of the main barriers to progress has been the position of the council.”

But last night it emerged that Mr Gove had never raised his concerns with East Sussex County Council – even though he had met with officials as recently as yesterday morning.

Matt Dunkley, the director of children’s services at the council, said he had met with Mr Gove yesterday (November 8) and found the letter, which was not raised with the council, “baffling”.


He added: “Firstly we are the co-sponsors of three academies and last year, together with the Department for Education (DfE), we brokered sponsors for four primary academies.

“Secondly, we have been in dialogue with the Government about a number of under-performing primary schools in recent months and when we discussed academy options for those schools, the DfE said it did not have appropriate available sponsors at present for all the schools concerned.

“It is completely inaccurate for them to describe us as a barrier to progress, or indeed to suggest that we are resistant to schools becoming academies.”

There are currently five primary schools in East Sussex which are rated as unsatisfactory by Ofsted – Pells Primary School in Lewes, Meeching Valley Primary School in Newhaven, Park Mead Primary School in Hailsham, All Saints C of E Junior School in Hastings and Mountfield & Whatlington Church of England Primary School near Battle.

Rosalyn Le Pierre, the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition spokeswoman for education, said she was “astonished” by the arrogance of the education secretary.

She added: “Becoming academies is not the answer because no one can make an intervention in an academy. When they go downhill the local authority is powerless.

“A number of schools do not want to become academies and they are not going to be bullied into it.”

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