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.
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.
discovered SPTA had paid nearly £425k to two firms connected to SPTA directors.