What did the Academies Commission recommend? And why’s the Government so slow in reacting?

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

The Academies Commission recognised that academy status alone is “not a panacea for improvement”. It had concerns about some academies manipulating their admissions and found that although a few sponsored academies had been a stunning success, most had not been any better than similar non-academy schools. The Commission found that some academies in chains complained about centralised control from the chain’s head office. And the Commission said that “most things an academy can do, a maintained school can also do,” .

The Commission recommends that if academies are to improve standards there needs to be:

1 A focus on teaching and learning.

2 “Fair and equal accessibility” for all children.

3 Governors who challenge and scrutinise their schools effectively.

4 A developed system of mutual school support and collaboration.

5 Support for this collaboration from Ofsted. No school should be judged outstanding unless it engages in “system-wide improvement”. (This relies on there being enough “underperforming” schools which allegedly need improving.)

6 A Royal College of Teachers independent of Government to link research with teaching practices.

7 Teachers engaging with research as part of their daily work. (Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, agrees with this idea.  He told TES this month that schools should be hubs of "cutting edge" research.)

8 The Local Government Ombudsman having extended powers to consider complaints about the maladministration of admissions and admissions appeals.

(All of these apply equally to non-academy schools. And the successful London Challenge, which particularly focussed on 1 and 4 above, had nothing to do with academy status.)

A fully-academised system, the Commission says, would result in communities of independent schools supporting each other. (Rather like local authority schools, then, except that academy chains could exert more control over their academies by imposing, say, the same resources or particular teaching strategies marketed as the “Chain X way”.)

Local authorities (LAs) should retain their responsibility to manage the supply of school places, the Commission wrote. (But the Department for Education and the Local Government Association have said LAs will face difficulties in managing oversupply or ensuring a sufficient number of places when schools are academies.  And the proposal by West Grantham Academies Trust to close one of its academies shows how difficult it will be for LAs to manage the supply of school places if Academy Trusts shut schools.) The Commission recommended:

1 LAs should become “champions for children” and articulate “a local and aspirational vision for education”. (But academies are independent and could ignore such a vision).

2 Academies should co-operate with LAs to ensure there are sufficient quality places. (But academies, being independent, are under no obligation to, say, accept extra pupils. LAs have no powers to close academies if there is a surplus of places.  And it appears that they have no say if an Academy Trust wants to close a school as the present situation in Lincolnshire shows.)

(The Government still hadn’t responded to the Commission's report. Why the prolonged silence?)

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