The government will be announcing as part of the Chancellors Budget Statement that all schools in England will be academies by 2022. I have to say this is not new news, as the Government has been very clear with its direction of travel for schools for sometime.
However, until today’s announcement, whilst the government may have wished for all schools to become academies, it did not have the legislative powers to do this. Until now schools either converted by their own choice, or were forced to because of poor Ofsted inspections.
For Cornwall, there has not been this mass-conversation seen in other areas of England. The percentages of all pupils in academy schools going back to February 2014 (using the Jan 2013 school census headcount) was 42%, or in actual numbers 29,377. In March 2016 (using the Jan 2014 school census headcount) this had risen to 55% or 39,041 pupils. Not a massive rise in conversations really.
If you look at it in more detail – using the same dates as in the previous paragraph – in 2014, 74 schools were academies. In March 2016, there are now 124. Not even half of our schools (273 schools in total) are academies.
For secondary schools, which there are 32 in total, 16 were academy schools in 2014, and now it is 18. (17,423 pupils in 2014, 18,335 in 2016. A rise of 8% in total numbers).
For primary schools, again using the same periods, in 2014 there were 57 schools that were academies. Now there are 105. An almost doubling of conversions. Breaking this down further, in 2014 11,843 pupils or 31% were in academies, by 2016, it was 20,602, or 51%.
Now the government wants to force those who saw no merit in converting to become an academy school. Though as always with the Government, the devil will be in the detail on how this will be managed. And as normal, the government makes the grand announcement and then sometime later, we get the detail.
We in the LEA (Local Education Authority – basically the Council) know our powers over schools have been slowly removed since the 1990’s. These powers are set to be reduced further to maybe one or two responsibilities. Again, the government has announced this, but gave no further details on which powers will remain with the LEA. My educated guess the areas will be left will be school transport, school admissions and SEN provision.
It might seem strange, but at present the LEA remains responsible for educational standards in all schools, but has no powers over improvements on the academy schools. We think tomorrow’s expected ‘white paper’ will spell out the changes to the LA’s responsibilities.
I am also worried one government department will have direct responsiblity for so many schools. They will now be responsible for so many functions for all the schools in England. I know the government have created the Regional Schools Commissioners, but still, all this responsibility rests with the DfE. Which I feel is a rather remote government department to the rest of the world.
Previously, the government said all schools to convert by 2020, but now they are saying 2022. Two reasons for this is because there is insufficient capacity for the DfE to handle this mass-conversion, and secondly, because the government wants schools to be in academy chains, at present there are not enough, and many of those chains are not what I would politely say, in a fit state.
Furthermore, if you read between the lines and look at the announcement a few weeks ago on school funding, this review of the funding formula has slipped right from 2017 to 2020. I can bet any school who will now be forced to convert will have a conversation about funding.
However, for me, we should be really concentrating on what actually happens in a school with the most important issue is the young people’s educational journey and how they can achieve their full potential. It should not be how a school is administratively governed.
Today starts the final days of the LEA’s involvement in schools. Ironically, it was a Tory government in 1902, which started the LA’s involvement in schools. Now it will be this government that will virtually end the LEA’s role in education by 2022.