A MINISTER who demanded answers from Yorkshire councils over the poor Sats results of 11-year-olds in their area has been told that some of the worst performing local primary schools were academies.
And one Yorkshire council boss told the Department for Education (DfE) that it got no response from the Government’s Regional Commissioner (RSC) when it raised concerns about specific academies in 2014.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb had demanded answers from councils in areas with the country’s lowest level of pupils getting to the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in key stage two tests. Letters were sent to four councils in the region last year; Bradford, Doncaster, North East Lincolnshire and Wakefield.
The Yorkshire Post has obtained council responses to the DfE under a Freedom of Information Act request. They show two town halls raised concerns about the performance of local academies.
The Government is encouraging more state schools to become academies - which are run outside of the local council and have greater freedoms than other state schools.
The expansion of the academies programme was a key policy of the coalition and the DfE has said “the most effective way of bringing about rapid and sustained improvement is to become an academy with the support of a strong sponsor”. However there has been a debate within the education sector about whether academies are outperforming other state schools overall.
Areas where there are high number of academies can indicate historic underperformance - if these schools have been converted to academy status in an attempt to raise standards in the predecessor school.
However good and outstanding schools have also been encouraged to take up academy status.
Wakefield Council’s director for Children and Young People Services John Wilson said in his response to Mr Gibb that the city’s three lowest performing primary schools were all academies and that performance had dipped significantly at these schools last year. He adds that in 2014 he had “raised specific concerns about the performance of these academies, and others, with the chief officers of seven multi-academy trusts and with the Regional Schools Commissioner” adding: “Whilst relations and responses from our multi-academy trust partners are encouraging, I have had no correspondence on action or improvement approaches from the RSC.
“This is important because the performance and experience of all children and young people in Wakefield schools and academies are my concern and the performance of academies contributes to the headline figure which has led to your letter.”
He added that the council hoped it would be able to work closely with the new RSC (for Lancashire and West Yorkshire).
North East Lincolnshire’s letter to Mr Gibb points out that almost three quarters of the district’s primary school pupils attend academies rather than council maintained schools. And it says that while results in council run schools have increased, those of academies in the area have not.
Council chief executive Rob Walsh said there were 12 council run primaries and 32 academies.
His letter says in the 12 maintained schools the number of pupils achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths incresed by seven per cent while in North East Lincolnshire’s academies it remained the same.
It adds: “In nine of the 12 maintained schools there was a significant improvement in results in 2015 compared to 2014. In 15 of the 32 academies there was an improvement in results in 2015 compared to 2014.” The letter goes on to say the council recognises the need for improvement in both maintained schools and academies in the area.
A DfE spokesman said: “Ensuring we deliver educational excellence everywhere is key part of our mission to extend opportunity to all. We know thousands of academies are transforming the lives of children by offering a standard of education never before seen in many communities. Figures show 92 per cent of failing schools that have been inspected have improved since becoming an academy. But it is only right that the small number of academies that are struggling to stretch their pupils are held to account to ensure all children fulfil their potential – that’s why we have introduced legislation to allow us to intervene swiftly where this is the case.”
The spokesman said that last month the Government announced that measures to tackle failing and coasting schools in the Education and Adoption Bill would be extended to cover academies and free schools.
The DfE also says the creation of a National Teaching Service, which aims to send some of the country’s best teachers and middle leaders to schools in struggling areas, will help underperforming schools that struggle to attract and retain the professionals needed. An initial pilot will be launched in the North West to deploy 100 teachers and middle leaders into primary and secondary schools in challenging areas from September 2016.
The Government have also announced a grant for £5m for five academy sponsors tasked with driving up standards in schools across the north of England – where historically performance has been poor. The Government says the Northern Sponsor Fund will help to improve performance for pupils in some of the most challenging and disadvantaged areas of the county by extending the reach of trusted academty sponsors.