'Grave risk' over academy plans, warns County Councils Network
There is a risk plans to turn all state schools in England into academies will not raise school standards, a group representing 37 largely Conservative local authorities has warned.
Councillor Paul Carter, from the County Councils Network, said the government was pursuing change with "undue haste".
Under draft government plans, all state schools in England will have to leave the oversight of councils by 2022.
A Department for Education spokesman said the concerns were "misplaced".
The evidence around academies is mixed, with most experts agreeing there is no conclusive proof the model is the single best way to improve education.
Councillor Carter is chairman of the County Councils Network and also leader of Kent County Council and a governor of a multi-academy trust.
He told the BBC: "My concern is that the change will lead to a poorer education system operating across Kent, and more broadly England, because the value that local authorities generally provide to schools will be removed."
What is an academy?
- Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority.
- The day-to-day running of the school is with the head teacher or principal, but they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts and may be part of an academy chain.
- These trusts and chains provide advice, support, expertise and a strategic overview.
- They control their own admissions process and have more freedom than other schools to innovate.
Under the draft plans, the role of overseeing standards will fall entirely to eight appointed senior civil servants called regional schools commissioners.
A new national funding formula will mean money will go directly from central government to schools, rather than priorities being set locally.
Ministers argue this will provide a high level of autonomy to schools, and help drive up standards through greater innovation and competition in the system.
But Mr Carter said he was worried a "one size fits all" approach would lead to local accountability being replaced by a "new regional quangocracy".
He described primary schools as much more "brittle" than larger secondary schools, with greater need for support, such as the maternity cover provided in Kent.
"If you have a school with five teachers, and two or three of those teachers become pregnant at the same time, you need those support networks to support those schools - otherwise their finances will not be sustainable and the school will end up in a spiral of decline."
The County Council Network say it is the future of small schools and high-needs pupils which are most uncertain under the government's plans.
This week, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she was listening very carefully to "important issues" raised about the plans.
On Sunday, a Department for Education spokesperson said the plans would not hinder schools requiring support, but instead support "those who need it most".
Changes would ensure schools received assistance "more quickly and effectively", they said.
"Multi-academy trusts and stand-alone academies will work with regional schools commissioners to ensure the needs of the local community - including high-needs pupils - are met swiftly."