LGA warns on weaknesses of Whitehall’s academy oversight

19 Oct 16

The small team of civil servants responsible for performance managing academies and free schools cannot do so effectively and could be putting children’s education at risk, the Local Government Association claimed today.

Academies and free schools are overseen by eight regional school commissioners, between them responsible for a quarter of schools in England. According to the LGA, each commissioner is currently working with around 100 struggling academies.

They are also to be given powers, under the Education and Adoption Act 2016, to intervene in council-run schools when they judge there are problems. Under the Act, councils must also ask permission of RSCs before they act to turn around a failing school.

The LGA is highlighting Ofsted ratings, which show that council-run schools are rated higher. Where 89% of council-maintained schools are rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, only 62% of sponsored academies are. However, 88.5% of convertor academies and 82% of free schools have been given one of the education watchdog’s top two ratings.

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Local councils have consistently proven themselves to be more effective at raising school standards than Regional School Commissioners, and this is no surprise.

“Each council is working with fewer schools, who they have good, long-standing relationships with, and they know what’s needed in their local areas. It is simply asking too much to expect RSCs to effectively turn around dozens of schools across a huge area.”

He added that giving more power to a “small number of unelected civil servants” undermined government plans to devolve more decision-making to the local level.

“With the government planning to end councils’ role in supporting school improvement and intervening in failing schools from next year, we have yet to be convinced that RSCs have the track record or the capacity to take on responsibility for another 13,000 schools,” said Watts.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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