Councils warn a lack of academy sponsors could hinder education standards
With only three of the twenty largest academy chains viable to take on additional schools, councils are calling for high performing maintained schools to be able to sponsor struggling schools, without having to go through academy status first.
The Education and Adoption Bill currently going through Parliament will require failing schools to convert to sponsored academies.
However, with more than 80 per cent of council maintained schools currently rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted, local government leaders are calling for central government to remove the bureaucratic barriers currently stopping councils from intervening in underperforming schools, and allow high performing maintained schools to play a direct part in raising education standards and improve life chances including taking on the running of failing academies.
The Local Government Association, which represents over 370 councils across England and Wales, believes councils have a good track record of raising education standards and research published by NFER has revealed that, on average, pupils attending maintained schools achieved the same high standard of GCSE results in 2014 as those attending academies.
Current government statistics show that only three out of the twenty largest academy chains are performing above the national average on an "added value" measure, compared to 44 out of 100 councils. With the Department for Education already halting the expansion of some of the largest academy chains in response to over-rapid growth, the LGA is concerned that there is a lack of potential academy sponsors to take on large numbers of additional schools. Already councils are reporting a lack of sponsors is hampering their ability to open new schools as academies, as required by law.
Speaking ahead of the Committee Stage of the Education and Adoption Bill in the House of Lords, where the Local Government Association will call for an amendment giving maintained schools or local authorities the option to sponsor a failing school, Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils are education improvement partners and not a barrier to change. Schools spend billions of pounds of public money, yet, at present, there is no rigorous accountability for academies that are 'coasting'; no clear understanding of what happens when one falls into this category; and no risk assessment in place for those rated as good or above.
"Only 15 per cent of the largest academy chains perform above the national average in terms of progress made by pupils, compared with 44 per cent of councils, which calls into question the capacity of high-quality sponsors to take on additional schools. When putting in place support for a school to improve outcomes for children, the focus should be on the quality and capability of a sponsor – whether that is a sponsor academy, a high performing maintained school, or a local authority.
"For parents, who are far more concerned with the quality of their child's education in the classroom than the legal status of the school, it is the council that they still frequently and naturally turn to for advice and support. However, councils' current powers to intervene are strictly limited.
"The Education and Adoption Bill provides the ideal opportunity to right this wrong and should allow councils and the best maintained schools to share their extensive experience and expertise, and help provide support to school leadership teams to ensure standards rapidly improve".
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