The academies programme should be scrapped and replaced with a system in which all state schools have the same status, according to a hard-hitting new report by a former Department for Education adviser.
The report warns that the exorbitant pay of multi-academy trust chief executives has damaged the reputation of academies and a lack of transparency over school decision-making is leaving parents and communities in the dark.
However, the EDSK report, published today, also suggests getting rid of maintained school status and moving to a system where every school has the same “state school” status and is funded directly by the government.
Quick read: Bigger MATs are less efficient, study finds
All state schools could either operate independently or choose to be part of federations or trusts – run by existing MATs, local councils or groups of schools, it suggests.
The end of academies?
The report, by former DfE official Tom Richmond, also proposes scaling back the power of MATs, which would be renamed "national school trusts".
Each school would be its own legal entity, with a decision-making governing body and the power to choose to leave or move between trusts.
The report proposes that councils be put in charge of admissions for all state schools. At present academies act as their own admissions authorities.
The EDSK report recommends giving this power to local authorities because “academies are more likely to fail to meet their responsibilities for running a fair admissions system, often by not accepting vulnerable pupils or by circumventing the schools admissions code”.
The report's recommendations also include:
- Multi-academy trusts would be renamed as "national school trusts" but their schools would have the power to leave if they chose to.
- Local authorities should be able to set up their own "local schools trust", similar to a MAT, which includes all the maintained schools in their locality.
- The eight regional schools commissioners be replaced with 35 "local schools commissioners" responsible for monitoring the performance of all state schools, intervening in underperforming schools and commissioning new school places when required.
- Local authorities be put in charge of school admissions, meaning that existing academies will no longer act as their own "admissions authority".
- Major decisions that affect local education provision such as setting up a new school or moving a school into a trust should involve public meetings and consultations.
Mr Richmond, the director of EDSK said: “England now has two sets of government-funded schools that are run separately from each other and come with their own rules on funding, governance and accountability.
“This has produced a fragmented and incoherent state school system that is confusing and inaccessible for many parents and local communities."
'Best of both worlds'
Mr Richmond said the changes he was proposing would combine the best of both systems by promoting autonomy in schools and school collaboration but also improving the transparency and accountability of the system.
He added: ““The seemingly endless debates over whether one set of schools is better than the other makes it difficult to hold important discussions about how to improve education standards.
"The best way to move beyond these polarised opinions is for the government to set the explicit goal of bringing all state schools together into a single, unified system that draws on the best of what academies and maintained schools have to offer.
“It is vital that all stakeholders – including pupils, parents, teachers and politicians – can judge schools on a level playing field in which every school is given the same support and opportunities to succeed."
'This amounts to academisation'
However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that rather than ending the academy programme, the plans “amount to the total academisation of the school system by central government diktat”.
He added: “There is now huge dissatisfaction with the academies programme and a realisation that its inherent structural problems are not possible to resolve.
“The call to reinstate local democratic accountability of schools is being made across the political spectrum.
“This is a clear attempt to breathe life into a dying programme before this happens.
“It would also involve an expansion of the unelected and unaccountable regional schools commissioner bureaucracy. It would actually reduce democratic accountability and make it harder for parents and staff to understand and navigate the system.”
The chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, Councillor Judith Blake, said: “Academisation isn’t always the best or only solution. Staying under council control delivers better results for a school than those which convert to an academy.
“This is why in the upcoming spending round, the government needs to give councils the powers to open new maintained schools where that is the local preference."
A DfE spokesperson said: "Standards are rising in sponsored academies and freedom is placed in the hands of school leaders, allowing them to make decisions based on local need and in the interests of their pupils.
“Each year hundreds of schools make the positive choice to convert to academy status – giving great teachers the freedom to focus on what is best for pupils, as well as more autonomy.
“There are more than half a million children studying in sponsored primary and secondary academies that are now rated good or outstanding, with standards rising faster in many sponsored academies than in similar council-run schools.”