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Councils could do it better: The LGA say councils improve more schools than academy chains

Published: Wednesday, 25th July 2018

West Midlands in Context picks out some of the key points.

Recent work by the Local Government Association and the Education Policy Institute has looked at school performance, while the Public Accounts Committee has published the findings from their inquiry into converting schools to academies. West Midlands in Context picks out some of the key points.


School improvement

According to an analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA), more failing schools are turned around by councils than academy chains. Their figures show that 75% of schools under council control that were “inadequate” in 2013 had become good or outstanding by the end of last year, this compared to 59% for inadequate schools that had converted to a sponsor-led academy. This, the LGA said, was “compelling” evidence that councils should be allowed to “intervene and turn around struggling schools again” of all types. The LGA highlight that while councils are “barred” from helping “even in cases where a struggling school cannot find an academy sponsor”, maintained schools that are found “inadequate” by Ofsted “now have to become sponsor led academies”.

Work by the Education Policy Institute appears to support the view that councils should have a role in academy improvement. Their report on school performance found that the key factor in school outcomes was not whether a school was an academy or local authority maintained, but whether it was part of a “high performing school group” or not. As such, among its recommendations, was for the government to “allow capacity to be provided through high performing local authorities” and to “allow them to take over schools from underperforming academy chains”.

Failure

Looking at the potential failure of academy chains, the Institute recommended that the Department for Education “identify those academy chains where there is a significant risk of failure and build sponsor capacity in those geographical areas that are at risk from chain failure before it occurs”. This concern about academy failure was shared by the Public Accounts Committee. In their July report, 'Converting schools to academies', the Committee was concerned that the Department did not seem to be learning from “high profile academy failures”, while also finding substantial regional variations in the “quantity and quality of support available to struggling schools”. Part of the problem according to the Committee, was that in the past the Department had focused on converting large numbers of schools to academies quickly, at the expense of rigorous due diligence checks and risk assessment. As a result, the Committee called on the Department to review academy trust failures to learn lessons for future scrutiny arrangements, and for the Department to set out the reasons for those failures and to show how it will strengthen the scrutiny of prospective academies and sponsors.

Confusion

More generally, the Committee found the Department for Education “failing to give a clear sense of direction for maintained schools, academies, local authorities, pupils and parents”. Indeed, looking at the oversight of schools, the Committee found the arrangements “fragmented and incoherent”, leading to “inefficiency for government and confusion for schools”. Illustrating the point, the Committee cites the large numbers of organisations involved in supporting schools become academies and overseeing their subsequent educational and financial performance, these included the Department for Education, regional schools commissioners, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Ofsted, local authorities, education advisors, multi-academy trusts and church dioceses.

Among the other findings of the Public Accounts Committee, was that councils’ ability to fulfil their statutory responsibilities is being undermined in areas where there is a high proportion of academies. For example, regardless of the split between grant maintained local authority schools and academies, the council remains responsible for making sure there are enough school places for local children, despite having no control over the number of academy places. Needless to say, the situation varies from place to place, with nine authorities having no maintained secondary schools and over a third of authorities having fewer than 50 maintained schools.

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