Saturday 7 May 2016

Government's backdown on forced academies welcome but not quite what it seems

Yesterday the government announced a modification of its forced academies policy.  It is not quite the u-turn that some called it on first sight. Forced academisation is still kept as an option and academisation of all schools remain a government aim.

It is clear that the change of policy is largely to appease the Tory shires who protested at the policy as well as those seeking to protect small rural schools. Non Tory LAs will remain a target and the new 'impossible' performance targets will be used to penalise 'under-performing' local authorities.
The government adds to its armoury the power to convert all schools in a local authority to academy status if 'it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted.'

In addition it can convert all schools if 'the local authority consistently fails to meet minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an ability to bring about meaningful school improvement.'

As with many government decisions it is not clear who will make the decisions on viability and performance but the continuing voluntary conversion of schools to academy status in some LAs, particularly where the government has cut funding and LA support is minimal, and forced conversion of schools in a category, will mean the academisation process will continue albeit at a slower pace until it reaches the trigger point for academisation of remaining LA schools.

The performance threshold will put pressure on local authorities, mainly Labour, in deprived areas and high mobility areas where funding is due to be cut. Even high performing schools, or those that do well taking into account contextual factors, will be caught if their LA is deemed to be failing overall.

As someone put it on Twitter yesterday: the government is closing one trap door but opening several new ones.

The Parents Defending Education Campaign said:
We have won a partial retreat - it is an important victory. But piecemeal academy conversion will continue unless parents and teachers fight every attempt to convert. It shows clearly that this government has lost the plot on education. The White Paper and other aspects of government policy remain deeply unpopular.

Now we know Nicky Morgan really does have a reverse gear, we should use this as an opportunity to launch an all out assault on the testing regime. No more SATS; No exam factories; No more funding cuts and good school place for every child.
It is clear that the campaign against academies and free schools and for the retention  of properly funded and democratically accountable local authorities must  continue.

This change of policy was a victory for parent campaigners, teachers, headteachers and councillors and we must learn form that unity to continue our campaign.

This is the DfE press release

The government is committed to ensuring every child has an excellent education which allows them to achieve their full potential. The reforms of the past 6 years have led to 1.4 million more children being taught in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools. Central to this improvement has been the academy programme

The academy programme puts control of running schools in the hands of teachers and school leaders - the people who know best how to run their schools. That’s why the government is committed to every school becoming an academy. This system will allow us to tackle underperformance far more swiftly than in a local-authority-maintained system where many schools have been allowed to languish in failure for years. At the same time, it will allow our most successful and popular schools to expand their reach to even more children. 

Since launching our proposals in the education white paper, the government has listened to feedback from MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents. 

It is clear from those conversations that the impact academies have in transforming young people’s life chances is widely accepted and that more and more schools are keen to embrace academy status. 

As a result of these conversations, the government has decided, while reaffirming our continued determination to see all schools to become academies in the next 6 years, that it is not necessary to bring legislation to bring about blanket conversion of all schools to achieve this goal. 

The government will continue to require underperforming schools to convert to academy status where they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor. One hundred and four directive academy orders have already been issued to underperforming schools in the last month since the new legislation came into force.

We will also continue to support ‘good’ schools to convert and to take the lead in supporting other schools as part of multi-academy trusts. In the last monthly figures 227 schools put in applications to convert, the highest monthly figure since the programme began, and we expect this rate to increase.

In addition, the government will bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in 2 specific circumstances: 

firstly, where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted. Under this mechanism a local authority will also be able to request the Department for Education converts all of its remaining schools

secondly, where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement 
These measures will target those schools where the need to move to academy status is most pressing. For other high-performing schools in strong local authorities the choice of whether to convert will remain the decision of the individual schools and governing bodies in question.  
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

Making every school an academy is the best way to ensure every child, regardless of birth or background, has access to a world-class education.
I am today reaffirming our determination to see all schools to become academies. However, having listened to the feedback from Parliamentary colleagues and the education sector we will now change the path to reaching that goal.

By focusing our efforts on those schools most at risk of failing young people, and encouraging ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools to seize the opportunities of conversion, we will ensure the continued growth of the academy programme, empowering frontline heads and school leads, and transforming even more children’s education.

The government is also announcing a package of measures to guarantee the continued success of small rural schools. 

Hundreds of small rural schools that currently receive no top-up funding to address the unique pressures they face will benefit from landmark changes made to school ‘sparsity funding’. This means over 1,200 small rural schools will receive specific targeted support. For more than 700 of those schools, their local authority currently chooses not to provide the top up, but the new national funding formula will provide sparsity funding for every single one.

Alongside the existing statutory presumption against closure of rural schools, the government will go further, introducing a new ‘double lock’ so that when small rural schools convert to academy status both local and national government have to agree to a school closing before a decision can be made. 

No small successful schools will be forced to join a national academy chain - most small schools will choose to join multi-academy trusts made up of other local schools, though small sustainable schools will be able to convert alone if they wish. To support them there will be dedicated support from experts in the Department for Education to help primary schools through the process of conversion and a £10 million fund for small schools to secure expert support and advice.

The government has allocated £300 million that will be available to support schools to convert and, in particular, support sponsors to turn around failing schools. A further £300 million will support strong and effective multi-academy trusts to grow and improve. And, in recognition of the costs that local authorities and church dioceses face, funding will also be provided to them.

This funding comes on top of the government’s protection to the core schools budget which will be over £40 billion next year, including the pupil premium - funding worth £2.5 billion a year targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. This is the highest-ever level of funding for schools of any government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jefferson stated that "democracy presupposes knowledge." Maybe in the modern era a study of bullshit is essential to analysing government statements?

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