Academy future for all schools still probable, says think-tank

12 May 16

All schools in England are still likely to become academies despite the government’s pledge to not to impose the reform, the CentreForum think-tank has concluded.

Examining last week’s revision to the government’s plan, CentreForum said that, although the government would not force all local authority maintained schools to become academies, there were other policies that were likely to lead to full academisation.

These include: the continuation of the converter academies programme, where high-performing schools submit applications to become academies, often joining multi-academy trusts; and powers in the Education and Adoption Act to tackle underperformance. In the past month, the Department for Education said, it had issued over 100 academy orders to schools rated as inadequate.

The third route of forced academisation for all schools includes three elements. While education secretary Nicky Morgan has said that ministers will not force individual schools to convert regardless of circumstances, other powers in the government’s education white paper were likely to continue the trends, CentreForum stated.

These include powers to direct schools to become academies in underperforming local authority areas or where the council is judged not to have the capacity to maintain its schools because of previous conversions.

“The power to act at a local authority level is potentially far more significant in terms of the number of schools reached than pursuing individual schools,” the report stated.

There were also many “significant unknowns” in the government’s position. The white paper has not defined what constitutes an underperforming local authority, or the level at which councils would be judged “unviable”.

“There are many different ways that these could be defined. For example, performance could be judged by the proportion of schools rated as requires improvement, the proportion of pupils not making expected progress or the number of coasting schools.”

These approaches could lead to the conversion of an estimated 12,000 schools, according to the think-tank; a total of 122 local authorities (out of 152) meet one of the criteria for being unviable (fewer than half of the pupils in the area attending local authority maintained schools), or the school performed below average on key stage 2 or key stage 4 results. This would cover the majority of the estimated 15,000 local authority maintained schools that were not yet in the academy pipeline.

Once schools choose to convert or are converted to academies because they are failing, more local authorities will become unviable by this definition.

“Given the combination of voluntary conversion, academisation under the Education and Adoption Act and direction at local authority, it is possible that full academisation (or very close to it) could be achieved without forcing schools one at a time,” CentreForum concluded.

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