William Eichler 06 May 2016

Whitehall u-turn over forced academisation plans

The Government has announced it is abandoning its plans to force all state schools to become academies.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has said ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools will not be forced to convert to academies. Underperforming schools will, however, still be required to change.

The proposals for academisation, unveiled by chancellor George Osborne in his last budget, would have led to all state schools being turned into academies by 2022.

These plans have been criticised from across the political spectrum.

Cllr James McInnes, a Tory and Devon County Council’s cabinet member for schools, said: ‘I believe it is wrong to try to force heads and governors into following a path they would not otherwise choose – especially when there is no evidence to suggest that this approach will improve performance.’

The County Councils Network also criticised the Government accusing them of pursuing the academisation policy ‘with undue haste’ and arguing it would pose a risk to schools.

Nicky Morgan said: ‘I am today reaffirming our determination to see all schools to become academies. However, having listened to the feedback from Parliamentary colleagues and the education sector we will now change the path to reaching that goal.

‘By focusing our efforts on those schools most at risk of failing young people, and encouraging ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools to seize the opportunities of conversion, we will ensure the continued growth of the academy programme, empowering frontline heads and school leads, and transforming even more children’s education.’

The u-turn comes just over a week after David Cameron confirmed forced academisation would be included in the Queens Speech on May 18.

Responding to the announcement, Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: ‘We are delighted that the Government is listening to our strong opposition to forced academisation, which has been echoed by MPs, teachers and parents and backed up by evidence.

‘Our recent analysis of the grades achieved by all schools under the more rigorous Ofsted inspection framework proved that 81% of council-maintained schools are rated as 'good' or 'outstanding', compared to 73% of academies and 79% of free schools.

‘It is right that these schools should not be forced down the academy route unless they make that decision themselves.’

Cllr Perry also said Ofsted figures show that ‘inadequate’ schools should remain with councils.

‘Recent Ofsted figures have also shown that "inadequate" council-maintained schools are more likely to improve if they stay with their local authority, rather than being forced to convert to an academy,' he said.

‘These figures showed that 98% of council-maintained schools improved in their first Ofsted inspection after being rated "inadequate" compared to 88% of academies.’

‘This clearly demonstrates that councils are education improvement partners, rather than barriers to delivering the high quality education that our children deserve. Councils stand ready to help all schools, regardless of their Ofsted rating or status,’ he added.

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