Latest Public Sector News

16.03.16

Councils and teachers lash out at forced academisation and ‘divisive’ school hours

It “defies reason” that councils are being pushed out of the education landscape, the LGA has said in response to the government’s commitment to make every school an academy by the end of the decade.

In today’s Budget, chancellor George Osborne outlined a string of radical educational reforms, the headline of which will see every school converted, or be in the process of being converted, into an academy.

He called this a measure towards “setting schools free of local education bureaucracy”, to which the Budget report added: “The academies programme is transforming education for thousands of pupils, helping to turn around struggling schools while offering our best schools the freedom to excel even further.”

This will be supported by a move to “fairer funding” for schools by replacing the “arbitrary and unfair system” for allocating funding with the first National Funding Formula from 2017-18. Subject to consultation, the government’s aim is for 90% of schools who gain additional funding to receive the full amount they are due by 2020,” the report said.

“To enable this the government will provide around £500m of additional core funding to schools over the course of this Spending Review, on top of the commitment to maintain per pupil funding in cash terms. The government will retain a minimum funding guarantee.”

In response to this decision, the LGA’s children and young people board chairman, Cllr Roy Perry, argued that Ofsted rates 82% of council-run schools as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. It has also identified that improvement in secondary schools, most of which are academies, has stalled.

“Forcing schools to become academies strips parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice. We have serious concerns that Regional Schools Commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools,” Cllr Perry continued. “The LGA opposes both forced academisation, and giving significant powers relating to education to unelected civil servants with parents and residents unable to hold them to account at the ballot box.”

The major National Teachers’ Union also attacked the government’s move, arguing it finally came clean about its “real agenda” and dropped its “fig leaf of ‘parental choice’, ‘school autonomy’ and ‘raising standards”.

Its deputy general secretary, Kevin Courtney, said the shift will undo over 50 years of comprehensive public education “at a stroke”, just a week after Sir Michael Wilmshaw, head of Ofsted, highlighted the “serious consequences” of having multi-academy trusts run schools.

“But this arrogant government is choosing to ignore the evidence from the HMCI, the Education Select Committee and the Sutton Trust’s own ‘Chain Effects’ report, which clearly demonstrates that academy status not only does not result in higher attainment but that many chains are badly failing their pupils, particularly their disadvantaged pupils,” Courtney said.

“The government’s ultimate agenda is the privatisation of education with schools run for profit. The NUT will continue to resist the government’s attempts to privatise our education system and will campaign alongside parents and other allies to Stand Up for Education.”

Currently, over 2,000 of 3,381 secondary schools are academies, while over 2,400 of nearly 16,800 primary schools have this status.

The Association of School and College Leavers was more accepting of these changes. Its interim general secretary, Malcolm Trobe, said what is important now is “to make sure that the system works as effectively as possible to the benefit of every young person”.

“Unfortunately, schools currently face real-terms cuts and a recruitment crisis. The government must ensure its vision for full academisation is backed up by the resources that schools and young people need,” he added.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said they have “no problem with academies” but don’t believe they are a panacea, adding: “We hope that local authorities will reinvent themselves to offer services that schools can buy into. It would make sense to us to allow some local authorities to establish academy chains,” he added.

Longer school hours ‘highly divisive’

Another raft of lesser education reforms were also buried in today’s Budget report, including a £20m a year to fund a Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy to end a perceived north-south divide. Sir Nick Weller, executive principal of Dixons Academies Trust in Bradford, will lead a report into this.

Ahead of the delayed childhood strategy report, Osborne also created a new soft drinks industry levy targeted at bigger producers. The revenue raised by this tax will be used to double the primary school sports premium to £320m per year, the chancellor said.

It will also pay for another £285m a year to extend the school hours of 25% of secondary schools, potentially allowing them to provide more activities.

In greater objection to this reform, Trobe accused Osborne of employing a “classic case of the large print giveth while the small print taketh away”. He claimed that while additional cash is welcome, the reality is that Whitehall has already made savings through increased national insurance and pension contributions.

And he also called it “highly divisive” that only 25% of secondary schools will be able to extend their school hours, potentially putting other children at a disadvantage.

“Many schools already provide after-school activities so we also need to understand how this new provision will be differentiated from the existing provision and what will be expected of schools,” the general secretary added.

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