Budget: Divided reaction to plan to convert all state schools into academies

Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake.
Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake.
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A COUNCIL leader has said the Government’s pledge to convert all state schools into academies will mean forcing some to do so against their wishes.

George Osborne’s announcement that all schools should become academies by 2022 has revived the fierce debate about whether the programme has been a success and led to questions about how such a major restructure will be implemented - especially at primary school level.

Council leaders have criticised the move announced in budget but the head of one leading academy chain in the region hailed it as a “watershed moment” in the drive to raise standards in schools.

Leeds Council leader and former cabinet member for schools Coun Judith Blake said: “It simply makes no sense to portray councils as barriers to school improvement.”

She also highlighted the recent criticisms the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw made last week when he wrote to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan outlining the failings found at schools causing concern inside seven of the country’s biggest academy chains. Coun Blake added: “We currently have 93 per cent of local authority maintained schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which compares to 76 per cent of academies in the city. We want to continue working collaboratively with our learning community and build on this strong performance still further.

“We will be engaging with head teachers and school leaders across the city to look together at the implications of these reforms for individual schools, groups of schools and the city as a whole, and support them as they make important decisions about their future.”

Neil Carmichael MP, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee warned that the Government would face “significant challenges” implementing its plan.

He said: “Some academies are delivering great results for their pupils but in progressing to a fully academised system we must ensure all schools are properly held to account for their performance. Multi-academy trusts already play a substantial role in our education system and they will be increasingly important as all state schools move to becoming academies. MATs currently receive little scrutiny and in our inquiry we are determined to examine their performance, accountability, and governance. The Government will face significant challenges in implementing these proposals. The drive to change school structures will pose particular issues for primary schools, where only around 15 per cent are currently academies.”

Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers criticised the move.

He said: “The proposals to force all schools to become academies will result in the dismantling of state education and will end democratic accountability in our schools. This is being done despite clear evidence that academies do not perform better than other schools and, in the case of many large chains, badly let down their most disadvantaged children. Nowhere else in the world has this been attempted apart from Chile where the results have been disastrous.”

However the proposals have received support from the heads of academy trusts.

Libby Nicholas, the designate chief executive of Reach4 said: “This is a watershed moment for education and great news for parents and local communities. It’s an opportunity to transform schools right across the country and ensure every child has the best education possible. We are delighted to be playing our part through Reach4, and are looking forward to working with further schools over the coming months as they join the family.”

Reach4 is a new trust, set up by the existing Reach2 academy chain. Reach4 is one of five sponsors rated as having a strong track record by the Department for Education who have been given extra Government money to take on more schools in the North of England.

Mrs Morgan posted on twitter saying: “Full academisation will empower great teachers and leaders giving them autonomy and accountability to let their schools succeed.”