Education & Family

Ministers could ease way for councils to run academies

Pupils during a lesson
Image caption The government says it will not back down on plans for all schools in England to convert to academies by 2022

In an attempt to avert a backbench rebellion, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has signalled she will consider making it easier for councils to form their own multi-academy trusts.

Under draft plans published last month, all England's state schools must become academies, run by trusts rather than councils, by 2022.

Councils would have to set up non-profit companies to become trusts.

But there are hints this requirement could be waived.

Tough questions

On Sunday, a group representing 37 largely Conservative local authorities warned the plan for all state schools in England to leave the oversight of councils by 2022 would not raise school standards.

David Davis MP also urged the government "to think long and hard about this step which will likely be extremely costly, and may lead to many smaller schools closing down".

He said he had written to Mrs Morgan warning the government "to be very careful not to overreach".

Mrs Morgan defended the plan at Education Questions in the House of Commons on Monday, promising she would not "leave the job half done".

On Wednesday she is due to give evidence to MPs on the Education Select Committee.

In addition, Conservative MPs have demanded Ms Morgan explain herself at a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee.

Now, a government source has said the decision over whether councils wishing to from their own multi-academy trusts would be required to set up a non-profit "social enterprise" has not yet been made. But the government will not alter its position on the deadline of 2022 for all schools to become academies.

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  • 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 the responsibility of 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

What does it mean to be an academy school?

The Local Government Association said changing the contracts of schools to convert them into academies would still cost "millions" and is calling on the government to drop its plans.

The LGA says its own research, published on Monday, suggests local authority maintained schools continue to outperform academies in Ofsted inspections.

And Labour said having councils running chains would still amount to "costly upheaval for thousands of outstanding schools".

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said requiring all schools in England to become academies would be a "costly, unnecessary exercise with no evidence that standards will improve".

And a source close to Ms Powell added making it easier for councils to form their own multi-academy trusts would be "neither a U-turn, or sufficient".

Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said the rumoured changes "totally blow out of the water the government's key drive in the white paper to make 'local authorities running schools a thing of the past'" but did not go far enough.

"The government will still be left as judge and jury over whether local authorities meet its criteria to run schools," she said.

"Schools will still be forced to go through a completely unnecessary and expensive legal process to change into academies, which will divert their heads' attention away from running the school and improving children's learning."

The Department for Education said converting England's schools into academies would put control of children's education in the hands of teachers and school leaders "who know their pupils best".

"We want to work constructively with the sector to deliver this and ensure standards continue to rise," said a DfE spokesman.

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