Government U-turns on forced academisation for all schools

William Stewart

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The government has announced a U-turn on its highly controversial plans to force all state schools to become academies by 2022.

Ministers are to allow "good" and "outstanding" schools in many areas to stay under local authority control.

The climb-down comes after sustained and widespread opposition. Many of the calls to reverse the plan came from Conservative MPs and local councillors.

But it will be particularly embarrassing as education secretary Nicky Morgan has said “there is no reverse gear on academisation”.

The plans were due to be announced in the Queens’ Speech next Wednesday and will now be a watered down version of ministers’ original vision of an all-academies system.

But there will be legislation that will allow the government to force the conversion of schools “in underperforming or unviable local authorities” introduced.

The Department for Education said that it had “listened to feedback from MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents”.

“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 six years, that it is not necessary to bring legislation to bring about blanket conversion of all schools to achieve this goal,” a spokesperson said.

The government says that it will continue to require “underperforming schools to convert to academy status, where they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor”.

And new legislation will trigger the conversion of all schools to academies in local authorities that fulfil one of two conditions. The first will be where “the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted”.

The second will be “where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement”.

But the DfE says that: “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.”

Ministers may face accusations that they have tried to bury the U-turn, as the news emerged on the same afternoon that the London Mayoral election results are due to be announced.

The DfE is claiming that the change was made in light of the high numbers of academies that had recently converted, suggesting rgar there was no need to force the issue. Insiders say they are still hopeful that an all-academies system will be achieved by 2022.

But the reality is that many schools will be unlikely to convert if they don't have to. And the change in tack is politically difficult for the government.

Only last week, prime minister David Cameron insisted: "We’re going to have academies for all and it’s going to be in the Queen’s speech.”

Ms Morgan said: “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.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: “It’s good news, isn’t it? We’ve raised these concerns; they’ve listened to the concerns. Now we can have a conversation about the White Paper that can be a lot more constructive.

“The White Paper is a massive document, and we’ve only talked about one aspect of it. People will be able to respond more constructively to it now, without the shadow of compulsion hanging over them.”

The DfE has also announced a new package that it says will protect the future of small rural schools.

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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