Press release from LSE:
The rapid conversion of state schools to academies since 2010 has resulted in the majority of such schools having less freedom than before, according to new research from LSE and a leading education lawyer at Matrix released today, (5 June 2018).
Almost a third of state schools have become academies since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition expanded the academies programme in 2010, with a key aim to give schools more freedom. However, the policy has resulted in over 70% of academies having less freedom than they had before, as they are run by Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and no longer exist as ‘autonomous’ schools, unlike schools maintained by local authorities.
The report’s authors, Professor Anne West of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and Dr David Wolfe QC at Matrix, highlight the lack of transparency in the way academies are run. In contrast to maintained schools, where decisions are taken by governors appointed through an open process, academies are run by ‘trustees’, whose opaque appointments are not subject to openness rules which apply across other areas of public life.
‘Freedoms’ of academies include not having to follow the national curriculum – potentially reducing educational opportunities for pupils – and not having to adhere to the national school teachers’ pay and conditions – raising concerns about teacher retention in maintained schools.
The financial accounts of academy trusts must be audited by external auditors, but the accounts themselves do not provide a detailed account of how (public) money is spent, in contrast to maintained schools. This opens the door to possible abuse of funds.
The authors offer a range of solutions to help address issues of transparency and autonomy, the lack of local democratic oversight and the governance of academies, without necessarily re-imposing a system of maintained schools in state education. These include:
Professor Anne West of the Department of Social Policy at LSE said: “The current system is fragmented and opaque, raising major concerns regarding children’s educational opportunities, school autonomy and the use of public funds. We propose a number of ways in which transparency and accountability could be improved including addressing pressing needs, such as academy trusts ‘divesting’ themselves of schools and the problems this creates for pupils, parents, teachers and local communities.”
Dr David Wolfe said: “Despite governments across the spectrum promoting academies to enhance school autonomy, academisation has actually put the clock back 30 years to an era where schools were run centrally. Our suggestions would bring much-needed transparency and return schools to their communities.”
Download an electronic copy of the report Academies, the School System in England and a Vision for the Future by Professor Anne West (LSE) and Dr David Wolfe QC (Matrix).