Government u-turns on academy policy

6 May 16

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has abandoned plans to force all schools to academies amid opposition from local authorities and some Conservative MPs.

Setting out an update on the government’s education white paper today, which had proposed that all schools become academies by the end of 2022, Morgan said that the government had decided not to impose the reform. However, some schools could still be made to convert if ministers judge a council can no longer viably support its remaining schools.

Local authorities including the County Councils Network had warned that removing local authorities from any decisions on how funding is allocated could hinder the ability of councils to support the most vulnerable children.

Morgan said the government is committed to ensuring every child has an excellent education which allows them to achieve their full potential, which she said the academy programme was central too.
“I am today reaffirming our determination to see all schools to become academies. However, having listened to the feedback from Parliamentary colleagues and the education sector we will now change the path to reaching that goal.”
Under revised plans, the Department for Education will continue to require underperforming schools to convert to academy status, as well as supporting schools rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted to convert and to take the lead in supporting other schools as part of multi-academy trusts.

Legislation will also be introduced to trigger conversion of all schools in areas where a “critical mass” have already become academies, and this will also allow councils to request transfer of its remaining schools.

New powers will also be introduced for conversion where councils “consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools”, according to the DfE.

“By focusing our efforts on those schools most at risk of failing young people, and encouraging ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools to seize the opportunities of conversion, we will ensure the continued growth of the academy programme, empowering frontline heads and school leads, and transforming even more children’s education,” Morgan added.

Teaching unions and local authorities welcomed the decision to not impose reform.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said this was “a huge government climbdown” following “an unprecedented outcry”.

He added: “This is a clear indication that government policy is in tatters. Nicky Morgan needs to stop and talk to the profession to work out a clear way forward. It is time to end this ideological nonsense for this discredited government. They need to start adopting the right priorities for education by talking to the profession.” He called on Morgan to not take extra powers to force all schools in specified local authorities to become academies.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “Although the immediate threat of forced academisation has been lifted, there is still much in the education white paper which should worry anyone concerned about the education of England's children and young people. There is potential for political shenanigans against local authorities if the government takes powers to force all schools in 'failing' local authorities to convert to academy status.”

Roy Perry, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, also welcomed the move.

“Our recent analysis of the grades achieved by all schools under the more rigorous Ofsted inspection framework proved that 81% of council-maintained schools are rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, compared to 73% of academies and 79% of free schools. It is right that these schools should not be forced down the academy route unless they make that decision themselves.

“This clearly demonstrates that councils are education improvement partners, rather than barriers to delivering the high quality education that our children deserve. Councils stand ready to help all schools, regardless of their Ofsted rating or status.”

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