Academies ‘not sharing data with councils’, LibDem conference told

19 Sep 17

The failure of academy schools to share data is weakening attempts by councils to boost skills and employment, according to a panel of local government experts speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference.

The criticism was made alongside calls for Whitehall to give councils greater powers over training and employment support, so that they can directly address skills gaps in their local areas.

The panel discussion was hosted by the LibDem branch of the Local Government Association during the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday. It heard that “a whole raft of information”, which could help address potential skills gaps, is sometimes missing from council planning, because academies are not accountable to their local authority and under no obligation to disclose data to them.

Howard Sykes, the vice-chair of the Liberal Democrat LGA group, told the event: “Academies in particular don’t have to cooperate at all with local authorities, or share any information. As bad as that was when [schools] first became academies, it has got worse since they joined federations of academies, because that’s where they look to and that’s where their loyalty is.”

He added: “That local connection is even worse and weaker.

“And it isn’t just about skills, it’s stuff to do with exclusions and much more. A whole raft of things where half the information you just haven’t got on the table”.

On the same panel, Ruth Dombey, leader of Sutton Council, admitted that schools of all types were sometimes harder to work with than other partners like further education colleges and local small businesses.

“We are not working so closely with our schools. That is because they won’t talk to us,” Dombey said, adding later: “what worries me is that schools don’t see it [addressing the skills gap] as part of their problem”.

Despite these issues, the panel agreed that local authorities were best placed to address the skills gap in tandem with other local bodies. “Basically, central government needs to let go and let us get on with it,” argued Dombey.

The latest data on employment, presented at the event by Tony Wilson, director of policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute, shows the size of the challenge ahead. A quarter of the workforce in the UK have been stuck in low-paid jobs “for a long time,” Wilson said, and one in ten workers are in jobs considered ‘insecure’.

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