Education & Family

Failing academies face rapid action

Nicky Morgan Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicky Morgan says the tougher standards will apply to all types of state school

Struggling academies could face rapid intervention and being taken over by another academy chain, in new powers proposed by the education secretary.

Nicky Morgan has announced that legislation will be extended to address failing and "coasting" academies as well as local authority schools.

Mrs Morgan said underperforming academies should be "held to account".

Heads' leader Brian Lightman says underperformance needs to be tackled, regardless of the type of school.

The ATL teachers' union said "the government seems to be finally waking up to the fact that some academies underperform".

Most secondary schools in England are now academies - and in his autumn statement, the chancellor George Osborne spoke of the government's aim to "make local authorities running schools a thing of the past".

'Instant intervention'

While the response to underachieving local authority schools has been to turn them into academies, there have been questions about the action taken when academies are underperforming.

The proposals announced by Mrs Morgan are an amendment to the Education and Adoption Bill, currently before Parliament.

The changes will mean that the new, tougher measures to raise standards in "coasting" schools will apply to all types of school, whether local authority, academy or free school.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Schools of all types will now be covered by the tougher measures

The previous form of the proposed legislation did not apply to academies, but Mrs Morgan put forward an amendment to allow "robust action" for all types of school.

"Underperformance is unacceptable wherever it occurs - whether that is in a maintained school or an academy," said the education secretary's written ministerial statement.

She said the Department for Education had already issued 122 warning notices to underperforming academies and free schools and changed the sponsor in 118 cases.

Academies which are underachieving will be "required to demonstrate they can improve significantly, or face the possibility of being moved to another sponsor".

Where Ofsted rates an academy as "inadequate", the school can face "instant intervention", which could mean being rapidly taken over by another sponsor.

'Consistent step'

Ofsted's annual report last week highlighted that "structural reform can only do so much".

This annual report on education standards, presented by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that "undoubtedly, academisation injected more vigour and competition into the system".

But it warned that academy status "does not insulate you from decline".

Inspectors found that 99 converter academies had declined from "outstanding" or "good" to a lower rating.

Sir Michael also argued that a simpler system - rather than some schools being academies and some the responsibility of local authorities - would be easier to assess and inspect.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teachers' union, said: "Belatedly the government has recognised the nonsense of having a two-tier performance system which treats schools linked to their local authority more harshly than academies."

Brian Lightman, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "If there is cause for concern over the performance of a school then intervention powers should apply regardless of whether it is a maintained school or an academy.

"So, the government's move to extend these powers to the oversight of academies is a logical and consistent step."

But he warned that intervention needed to recognise the underlying problems, such as "very severe recruitment problems".

Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: "Just because they have become an academy or are part of a chain doesn't mean that a school will automatically succeed.

"However, this government's focus on academisation at all costs means that other options to tackle school improvement are being ignored including tackling the teacher shortage crisis threatening school standards."

Mrs Morgan said academies were "offering a standard of education never before seen in many communities".

"But it is only right that the small number of academies that are struggling to stretch their pupils are held to account to ensure all pupils fulfil their potential.

"We are committed to ensuring educational excellence everywhere and challenging all schools to raise their standards is a key part of this."

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