Councils should have more power over academies, says LGA
By Richard Johnstone | 26 October 2012
The Local Government Association has today called for councils to be given powers to monitor academy schools in areas where they now make up a majority of secondary schools.
It warned that without this local supervisory role, standards could slip.
Before the introduction of academies in England by the last Labour government, upper-tier and unitary local authorities were responsible for all schools in their area, including their funding. They remain responsible for non-academies.
Now academy schools are given freedom from town halls on decisions such as staff pay, and can also decide their own curriculum. Responsibility for funding them transfers to the Department for Education.
The coalition government has expanded the number of academies from 203 when it came to power in May 2010 to 2,373.
In 86 local authority areas, 50% or more of secondary schools are already academies or are in the process of converting to them.
In these places, the LGA has called for the functions of the Education Funding Agency, the DfE agency responsible for the funding of academies, to be devolved to councils. This would return to town halls the power to monitor the performance of academies and take decisions on funding.
Council leaders are concerned that, as the number of academies grows, it will become impossible to properly assess the performance of such a large number of schools from Whitehall. This could lead to standards falling, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board David Simmonds warned.
Speaking ahead of a debate on the future role of councils in education at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, he said: ‘Councils have a statutory duty to promote educational excellence in their areas and a central role in challenging and supporting schools that are underperforming.
‘The council role of holding schools to account and in turn being held to account by local people ensures that parents have a champion to support schools in helping children to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.
‘Once the majority of secondary schools in an area have converted to academies, does the secretary of state for education have the capacity to monitor the performance of, and provide support to individual schools? We are concerned that by sheer weight of numbers some academies may be left to fall through the cracks.’
He added that council leaders were ‘particularly concerned about the majority of recently converted academies that do not have a sponsor to keep an eye on their performance and step in with support if standards start to decline’.
Last month, a report
on the growth in academies by the Local Government Information Unit, backed by Unison and the National Union of Teachers, warned of an ‘accountability gap’.
But a Department for Education spokeswoman said: 'The academies programme gives schools more freedom than ever before over what they teach and how they teach it, their budgets, the length of the school day and how much they pay their teachers.
'Far from centralising education, this gives teachers the power to make decisions that are right for local children.'