Academy chains shouldn’t expand too rapidly and primaries are reluctant to convert, says Commission

Janet Downs's picture
Note: the words in brackets are the author's comments

Some successful academy chains have cautioned against too-rapid expansion, the Academies Commission found.

The Commission recommended that chains should not increase in size too quickly especially when improvement in existing schools was fragile. (But Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was encouraging chains to grow as quickly as sustainably possible in July 2011 including one, ULT, that had previously been banned from taking on more academies for poor performance.)

The Commission found that some chains had no coherent approach to school improvement. And some academies in these chains complained about “the centre” in the same way that they might at one time have complained about LAs. (Such complaints about central control by LAs would have been before Local Management of Schools which gave considerable autonomy to schools. John Burn OBE, an ex-principal of an academy, warned about how academies in chains could end up with less control than they had when they were LA maintained schools. Burn was particularly critical of ULT which had taken over his academy without consultation.)

Primary schools had not been keen to convert. Many valued their relationship with local authorities and appreciated the services they provide. (These services become increasingly at risk as more schools become academies. It could be argued that secondary schools have acted selfishly in becoming academies and threatening the viability of services on which the smaller primary schools depend.) On the other hand, some primary academy heads “relished” their independence saying it allowed them to innovate. But the Commission found that it wasn’t necessary to be an academy in order to innovate (Heads who claim otherwise are being disingenuous). And the Commission found it was not lack of freedom but the accountability regime that discouraged innovation.

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