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Why Councils need new powers in an all-academy school system

April 7, 2022 2:39 PM
By Chris Carubia

schoolBefore the education act of 1988 local authorities were in control of local schools making decisions on staffing, assigning budgets and devising curriculums and overseeing assessments below O level and A level standard. The introduction of the act changed all that giving head teachers control of the day to day running of schools and giving control of monitoring and assessments over to central government.

Local government functions were then further watered down with allowing grant maintained schools to 'opt out' exacerbated by Labours introduction of academies that was massively expanded by Michael Gove.

The current figures show that approx. 80% of secondary and 40% of primary are now academies with the upward trend continuing to grow, leaving local government with the really difficult task that no one else can do or wants, which is managing the creaking system that is special educational needs and disabilities, (SEND) co-ordinating alternative provision for excluded pupils and ensuring that schools engage with wider children's services.

The inability for the LA to insist on academies taking on more, or in some cases less places, has made ensuring a sufficiency of school places extremely difficult and to do this with less money makes it even harder.

Whilst many multi academy trusts (MATS) work well with their local authorities' problems arise when they don't. This is especially problematic for pupils with SEND causing disconnects and making the integration with social work much more difficult.

The alternative model set out by Nicky Morgan in 2016 hardly gained traction and made little difference mostly due to the timing of Brexit and so we seem to be stuck with this dual system that is not working well, causing confusion and inefficiency by forcing local authorities to maintain a diminishing number of schools. I believe we would be better placed with either one system or the other.

MAT's have many advantages and do generally work well. They can maximise the use of back-office sharing, and the educational benefits shared across the schools involved are worthwhile, but it is the accountability and safeguarding issues that concern me, which is why, I would advocate that local authorities should have the power to request data such as school attendance and achievements and the ability to ensure fairness in the admissions policy in their area.

They should also be instrumental in the proposals and acceptance of any future expansion plans and have the ability to call MAT's to public meetings to address parental concerns, school data and policies. There is also a need to ensure that they are required to participate in the wider children's services agenda.

I am deeply concerned that the onward march of academies is privatising our education system and putting the welfare of our children into the hands of private businesses who have little or no experience in the field of education and that by their very nature of being a business are run on the premis and acceptance of a healthy financial bottom line.