Make it easier for maintained schools to sponsor failing academies, councils urge

10 Feb 17

Councils in England and Wales have called on the government to make it easier for high-performing maintained schools to sponsor struggling academies.

This comes after research by the Local Government Association released today indicated 91% of council-maintained schools were rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted, up to December 2016.

Council leaders are urging the government to remove “bureaucratic barriers” preventing maintained schools from sponsoring failing academies. Currently, council-run schools must seek academy status before attempting to become a sponsor.

In a statement, the LGA said that councils should also be able to sponsor “orphan schools” that cannot find a sponsor because they are considered unviable. This could offer an important safety net for struggling rural schools, it added.

The eight regional commissioners appointed by the government to provide oversight to academies lacked the capacity and local knowledge to tackle all “the rising failings of academies”, the LGA noted.

Of the 955 sponsored academies to inspected so far, 333 (35%) were rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate”.

Last year, education secretary Nicky Morgan was forced to announce the government had backed down from its plan to transform every English school into an academy.   

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “With 91% of council schools now rated good or outstanding, councils and the schools that they maintain have proven they have the track record, experience and expertise to help lift schools out of academic failure.

“The government must commit to removing the unnecessary red tape and give high performing maintained schools the option of becoming academy sponsors.”

Watts added that councils want to be seen “as improvement partners, not obstructionists” standing in the way of school improvement.

The association also raised concerns about the lack of sponsors available for academy schools, and the absence of clarity around struggling schools’ futures. The easiest way to deal with this, it said, was “to give councils the power to turn these schools around where this is the best option locally.”

Of particular concern is the fact that the regional commissioners’ oversight is limited to academic performance, Watts stated. As such, the early warning signs of failings over safeguarding or financial management “risk being overlooked.”

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