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Government wholly abandons academies legislation after council protest

Controversial plans to convert all schools to academies, which were widely opposed by councils, have been abandoned by the Department for Education.

Nicky Morgan, the then education secretary, backed down on plans to force all schools to convert to academies earlier this year.

However, the Queen’s Speech in May included a new Education for All Bill, which would allow the government to force schools in the worst-performing local authorities to become academies.

But in a written statement released yesterday to coincide with the introduction of the Technical and Further Education Bill, Justine Greening, who replaced Morgan as education secretary after Theresa May became prime minister, said: “Our ambition remains that all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings.

“Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily. No changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda.”

The LGA was strongly opposed to the proposals, saying they could cost councils £320m and would not improve school standards.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA children and young people board, said today: “We are pleased that the secretary of state is acting on the strong concerns from councils about the government's planned education reforms. Today's announcement is the right decision and shows the government has been listening to our concerns, which have been echoed by MPs, teachers and parents.

“Councils have been clear from the outset that the proposals within the Bill focussed too heavily on structures, when our shared ambition is on improving education for all children.

“In particular, both the forced academisation of schools in areas considered to be ‘unviable', and the removal of the council role in school improvement, went against evidence that council-maintained schools perform more highly than academies and free schools in Ofsted inspections, and that conversion to academies did not in itself lead to better results.”

Cllr Watts noted that the LGA’s submission to the Autumn Statement would call on the government to give councils a “clear and strategic role” in overseeing local schools.

He also called on the government to reverse plans to cut £600m next year from the Education Services Grant, which covers services such as speech therapy, physiotherapy, music lessons and DBS checks on staff.

Also responding to today’s news, Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, argued Greening’s announcement is “a master-class in how to bury bad news”.

“After her predecessor’s embarrassing back-pedals over the Education for All Bill, the government has finally decided to abandon any attempt to revise its plans for total academisation in light of widespread criticism,” Courtney said.

“The education secretary needs to urgently start listening to the profession to find a way forward that ensures the best education outcomes for all children. In particular, the questions of real terms cuts in school budgets, an inappropriate and dysfunctional system for assessing primary children, the narrowing of the curriculum in secondary schools as a result of the EBACC, and the problems of teacher recruitment and retention all need serious ministerial attention.”

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