Schools should have the freedom to choose whether they become an academy – and the government should recognise the role that councils can play in improving education, the Local Government Association (LGA) said today.
The call came as the LGA published a new analysis showing that 81 per cent of council-maintained schools have been rated as "good" or "outstanding" under the current inspection framework, compared with 73 per cent of academies and 79 per cent of free schools.
Figures for inspections predating the introduction of the education watchdog's more rigorous framework – including some schools that have not been assessed for at least five years – show that some 86 per cent of council-maintained schools are "good" or "outstanding". This compares with 82 per cent of academies and 79 per cent of free schools.
Only hours after the publication of the figures, Nicky Morgan told Parliament that she would "finish the job" of all-out academisation and would not leave it "half-done."
Council leaders are now calling on the government to withdraw plans to force all schools to become academies by 2022, as outlined in its recent White Paper.
Their call comes on the same day The Times reports that education secretary Nicky Morgan is preparing to make a U-turn over universal academisation in the light of growing Tory opposition to the plans.
The paper reports that she could make a series of concessions, including allowing the best-performing councils to run their own academy chains and allowing councils to direct academies to expand in order to provide additional school places.
Ms Morgan would not be drawn on any planned reversals of policy, but told MPs she was "looking forward" to continuing conversations with MPs on the issue.
Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said the body's analysis of the Ofsted grades demonstrated that councils were partners in improving education, rather than barriers to it.
"With 86 per cent of council-maintained schools in England rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, the government needs to recognise councils’ role in education improvement, and that imposing structural changes on schools is not the best way to improve education," he said.
"Instead, schools need the freedom to choose, in partnership with parents and councils, whichever structure is most appropriate for them, and more pressing issues such as the need for more school places and the growing teacher recruitment crisis need to be addressed urgently to make sure that all schools can deliver the best possible education for every child."
'Not far enough'
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said that if the rumour of a U-turn proved to be true, it would still be a small climb-down.
Dr Bousted added: "While it sounds as though the government is being forced into making concessions to its plans to force all schools to become academies, these do not go nearly far enough.
"The government will still be left as judge and jury over whether local authorities meet its criteria to run schools."
But a spokesman for the Department for Education said: “These figures are completely misleading, and wilfully ignore the real progress that’s been made through removing the very worst performing schools from council control and turning them into sponsored academies.
"It’s thanks to such reforms that 1.4 million more children are now learning in good or outstanding schools compared with 2010."