The Education Select Committee’s report on Academies and Free schools
confirms something which has been repeated on this site for years: ‘Most academy freedoms are in fact available to all schools’
One freedom which is given to academies, however, is the freedom to opt-out of the centrally-mandated National Curriculum. The Committee has an answer: freedom to opt-out should be given to all schools.
The Committee welcomed the appointment of Regional Schools Commissioners as a way of moving back to local control. But any lasting solution would need to be more localised and require effective input from local authorities (LAs). At the moment, LAs can’t fulfil their role as ‘champions’ for children, families and employers without a system which lists LA role and responsibilities.
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) should be split in two: one for regulation, the other for funding. This would restore confidence in the EFA’s ability to monitor academy trusts, the Committee wrote.
The Department for Education (DfE) should publish information on individual school performance AND trusts. It should clarify how sponsors are chosen.
The DfE needed to be more open about systems for monitoring academy chains and ensuring they are accountable. It should publish the criteria used when academy chains are ‘paused’ from taking on more academies.
Academy Funding Agreements should be limited to five years.
The DfE should provide a way for academies to leave chains ‘where appropriate’ and devise a procedure to manage the fall-out when chains collapse. This should describe how individual academies would be treated when chains close.
Conflicts of interests in academy trusts are a ‘real issue’
and the Committee calls on the DfE to take further action to improve governance in trusts.
The Committee said Ofsted should be given the power to inspect Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
. This advice was published shortly after the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced she was not going to extend Ofsted’s remit
In one particularly damning paragraph, the Committee said there was ‘no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools
’. It said primary schools benefit from collaboration whether academies or not. It recommended that LA maintained schools in federations should have access to funding to encourage collaboration.
It’s too soon to assess the quality of education in free schools or their impact on the wider system,
the Committee said. The DfE should clarify how decisions are made about which free schools received funding. LAs should be told about free school proposals in their area and the intake of opened free schools should be monitored to assess the impact on the intake and attainment in neighbouring schools.
In a second damning paragraph, the Committee said:
‘Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.’
The Committee said all schools had a part to play in improving the education system. Academies were still a minority: 4,200 academies, 17,300 non-academies. The present Government should make its vision for the future of England’s schools clear. This should include how the system will be structured and what principles underpin it. The Committee warned that any future Government would have to examine whether the present ‘dual system of oversight and intervention’ is helpful.
The Summary ends with a warning: the DfE should take heed of lessons learnt after the ‘exceptionally fast’ and ‘wholesale conversion’ of secondary schools to ‘inform any future expansion.’
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. There have been voices warning about the rapid expansion of academies and saying academy conversion was not a magic bullet for a long time. But the DfE publicity machine continued to promote the superiority of academies over ‘council run’ schools. The sneer is almost audible. But reams of DfE spin won’t bury the fact that billions of pounds have been spent on a flagship policy now found to be flawed.