Should LAs be blamed for NOT supporting academies when they’re under no legal obligation to do so?

Janet Downs's picture
In order to improve, schools must be freed from the dead hand of local councils. That’s the mantra behind the push for academy conversion.


But is it then fair to blame local authorities (LAs) for not supporting schools which have opted-out of LA stewardship by becoming academies?

This is what appears to have happened in North East Lincolnshire.

Ofsted said targeted inspections of seven schools and a telephone survey of eleven Good or Outstanding schools in North East Lincolnshire revealed “significant concerns” about the council’s school improvement support. But five of the seven targeted inspections were in academies and outside LA “control”. The status of the eleven telephoned schools is not known.

Inspectors were told to ask “additional questions designed to ascertain the school’s views on the effectiveness of local authority services to support school improvement. This information will contribute to work being carried out by Ofsted to assess the use, quality and impact of those services.”

But five of the seven schools were academies.

What did targeted inspections of just two LA maintained schools reveal?

Stalingborough CofE VC primary school rose from Good to Outstanding (the only targeted school to improve). Inspectors found the LA provided appropriate support and staff benefitted from LA advice.

Ofsted judged Springfield Primary School to Require Improvement (previously Satisfactory). The LA provided some effective support but this had not ensured consistent progress.

The comments about LA support were mixed. But two is far too small a sample on which to base a reliable conclusion.

What did the targeted inspections of five academies reveal?

John Whitgift Academy had not sought support from the local authority since conversion. It was “sceptical” about LA monitoring of alternative provision used by the academy. The Oasis Academy, set up under Labour, had been identified by the LA as “challenged and vulnerable”. The LA said Scartho Junior Academy and Signhills Infant Academy required minimal support and viewed Weelsby Academy as “self-sustaining”. Ofsted said this meant the LA did “not have to intervene actively to support the academy, because its leaders know what they are doing and take effective action to improve”. That said, inspectors found the academy continued to “draw well” on advice from the LA and the academy’s sponsor, the Schools Partnership Academies Trust (SPTA)*.

It appears North Lincolnshire LA continues to support academies when it is able to do so but cannot intervene if an academy doesn’t seek this support. It’s unclear, therefore, what the LA can do to support academies which it identifies as “challenged and vulnerable”.

North Lincolnshire’s school improvement services were outsourced to Serco on a five year contract worth £2m a year in 2011. Serco’s advisers were “viewed positively” by schools that it supported but inspectors said, “Significant staff turnover and reductions in numbers have resulted in a decline of the local authority’s capacity to support school improvement”. Ofsted found the proportion of good or better schools in North Lincolnshire was below the national average and concluded the Council offered uneven support and didn’t use data effectively.

But LA support is bound to be “uneven” when schools become academies – that is a consequence of conversion. And it’s unfair to base judgements on LA school improvement services on inspections of academies which are outside LA influence.

*The Guardian discovered SPTA had paid nearly £425k to two firms connected to SPTA directors.
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Richard Soles's picture
Tue, 01/07/2014 - 14:17

My opinion is no, LA's should not be blamed for schools that are out of their control / support mechanism. Some of those schools have chosen to be "free to fail" and the governors of those schools should be accountable along with academy and freeschool commissioners. Business is business.

Phil Taylor's picture
Tue, 01/07/2014 - 14:30


Thanks once again Janet for continuing to point out the way in which the ongoing campaign to vilify LAs relies so often on very dubious 'evidence'.

Perhaps the LA in question were not well advised when they outsourced their school improvement to Serco?

Brian's picture
Thu, 03/07/2014 - 07:43

Dear me. Derbyshire being naughty. Schools not playing ball.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/07/2014 - 14:56

Thank you, Brian, to the link to the PR fluff from the Schools Commissioner (SC). Take the Shirebrook Academy which the SC praises. It was Derbyshire's first academy open on 1 September 2010.

SC says, "The proportion of pupils at the school achieving 5 or more GCSEs at C or better including English and maths jumped from 44% in 2010, while a council-run school, to 64% in 2013 - after 4 years as an academy."

But what SC didn't say was Shirebrook School wasn't a failing school - it was judged Good by Ofsted in 2008. It's now Outstanding and results have risen which suggests the school was already on an upward path.

This is borne out by the exam results. In 2007 25% of pupils reached the benchmark (despite this low figure, Ofsted still said Shirebrook was Good in 2008, remember). So between 2007 and 2010 results had "jumped" by 19% points to 44%.

Results rose by 20% points between 2010 and 2013 from 44% to 64% which is only 1% point more than the rise in results between 2007 and 2010 when it was a "council run" school.

What we don't know, of course, is how much the rise, if at all, is due to the use of equivalent exams (this isn't made clear in tables before 2011). But Shirebrook Academy's use of equivalent exams seems to have risen:

2011 55% drops to 42% when equivalents removed
2012 65% drops to 51% when equivalents removed
2103 64% drops to 53% when equivalents removed

The figures actually show a slight drop of 1% between 2012 and 2013 in overall results.

SC didn't say that, did he?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/07/2014 - 15:41

Brian - the Schools Commisioner praises Greenwood Dale Academy Trust for the results at Stanground Academy, Peterborough. Stanground's certainly improved (predecessor school was Inadequate) - it's now Good. But SC doesn't mention that. He concentrates only on results . It's true the proportion reaching the benchmark has risen from 41% in 2011 to 62% in 2013. But remove the equivalent exams and the 2011 figure drops by 7 percentage points to 32% but by 20 percentage points down to 42% in 2013. It appears, then, the results are inflated by the use of equivalent exams.

This also happens at another Greenwood Dale Academy at Skegness - the 2013 results drop from 51% to 17% when equivalent exams are removed.

In praising the wonderfulness of sponsored academies, SC doesn't mention sponsored academies in Peterborough which have got worse since being sponsored. The Voyager Academy was judged Inadequate on all four counts in February (down from Requires Improvement) and Thomas Deacon Academy has dropped from Good to Requires Improvement.

SC didn't mention that. But he wouldn't, would he? He only wants to paint a positive picture.

Brian's picture
Thu, 03/07/2014 - 18:00

Thanks Janet, I was hoping you'd bring your usual excellent forensic analysis to the PR fluff. What I find interesting in these press releases is that that always contain:

'Academies benefit from greater freedoms to innovate and raise standards. These include:

freedom from local authority control
the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum
the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days'

Of course there is never any mention of what local authority 'control' amounts to; nor is there any mention that the other three freedoms have been given to one set of schools and denied another by the Secretary of State. Presumably, if we believe the guff about these freedoms enabling academies to 'innovate and raise standards' then Gove is culpable in denying, for political reasons, other schools that opportunity. A point made many times I know, but always worth repeating.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 04/07/2014 - 10:46

Brian - the constant repetition about "freedom from local authority control" is to ensure people take this "fact" as "truth". It's the "Goebbels" saying in action: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Unfortunately, most of the media don't analyse Government pronouncements about education (perhaps because they support the Government's position and don't want to undermine it by challenging the statements).

David Barry's picture
Fri, 04/07/2014 - 18:02

Often enough people have not realised the extent to which local authorities have been cut out of educational decision making. On a number of occasions recently I have seen people blaming a local council for something that has gone wrong with the Free School program.

"The council should have realised this was a bad place to put such a school" That sort of thing.

A good, very current, and ready to hand example of this sort of argument - where a problem with a Free School is blamed by Michael Gove on the Local Council is the Fulham Boys School debacle.

There is a good discussion of it here:

agov's picture
Sun, 06/07/2014 - 08:38

"academies which are outside LA influence"

But not entirely, according to Ofsted -

"We inspect local authorities to provide an independent external evaluation of how well they carry out their statutory duties in relation to promoting high standards in schools and other providers so that children and young people achieve well and fulfil their potential as defined by section 13A of the Education Act 1996. This includes support for schools causing concern as set out in Part 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006."

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 06/07/2014 - 10:29

agov - there may be "statutory duties" for LAs to oversee "other providers" but they have no teeth. They can do little to assist a failing academy unless the academy wants it to help. It's no use telling LAs to monitor academies, which are supposed to be outside LA "control", when they haven't got any powers to do so. Even Ofsted recognises that LAs don't have a "formal responsibility" to help struggling academies and free schools (see monitoring report for Batley Grammar School, a free school set up in 2011).

(Note: I originally said Ofsted 'don't have a "formal powers"..." It should have been 'a "formal responsibility"'. I've put it right.)

agov's picture
Mon, 07/07/2014 - 18:03

That may not be quite what was said.

The report says "The local authority has no formal responsibility for the Free School."

Leaving aside whether one HMI can speak for Ofsted, 'responsibility for' is very different to 'formal responsibility to help' and neither necessarily equate to "duties in relation to promoting high standards" and "support for schools causing concern".

I agree that LAs have no (or not many) teeth vis-à-vis academies but they still have duties. If the academy chooses to ignore what the LA tells them or refuse support offered, that is their lookout. The report you cite says the LA "has provided a consultant headteacher who has given helpful support for self-evaluation and improvement planning".

This -


"boroughs have developed a range of different delivery models to fulfil their statutory functions"


"Ofsted acknowledge within their new inspection framework that there is no one single ideal model of school improvement. What is considered crucial is that local schools know of the local authority offer and support as well as challenge is offered."


"Reforms to education have led to much debate about the local authority role. While the department has been ambivalent about local authorities and responsibility for school improvement, Ofsted expect boroughs to retain a role and continue to be accountable for overall performance of schools. In some quarters, Ofsted’s approach and inspection is seen as out of date and reflects a bygone age, when the bulk of local education had been delivered by schools that were part of the local authority family. For others, it represents clear recognition of the value, importance and legal duties boroughs have in relation to school improvement."

Fortunately NuLab are on the case and will ensure certainty, harmony and restoration of proper democratic accountability - just kidding.

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