Letter to outstanding schools bids to boost take-up of academy status

12th November 2010 at 00:00
Ministerial U-turn as personal missive to governors highlights incentives to switch

Schools minister Jonathan Hill has written to each of the country's outstanding schools personally urging them to consider becoming an academy.

Writing ahead of the National Governors' Association's (NGA) annual conference last week, Lord Hill addressed an open letter to every governor of an outstanding school in a bid to increase the take-up of the academy offer.

The decision to write to every school is a change of direction for the schools minister, who maintains that the Coalition's academies policy is "permissive" rather than "coercive".

But in his letter, Lord Hill said: "I know many of you will be considering the offer to convert to an academy at your governing body meetings this term. As you consider the position of your school, and whether academy status is right for you, it is important for you, as governors, to have the right information needed to make your decision."

Lord Hill added that the Department for Education would give a flat-rate grant of pound;25,000 to every school that opts to convert, before stating that academies had had a "dramatic impact" on areas where they already exist.

"Governors and heads in outstanding schools across the country are converting to academy status now or preparing to do so," he said.

"Their staff, pupils and parents are already starting to see the benefits of academy freedoms. And other local schools in their communities will also benefit, because all converting academies will work with other schools so that standards in both improve."

Emma Knights, chief executive of the NGA, said it was understandable that the Department would want to remind outstanding schools of the possibility of becoming an academy.

"There are a lot of things that schools have to think about at the moment, aside from academies," she said. "I don't think there was any doubt that the Government was hoping for more schools to take up the offer.

"It is on the record that they were hoping they would have converted more schools by now, so perhaps they are a bit surprised that all schools have not said yes."

Ms Knights said that many NGA members, particularly governors of outstanding schools, do not see the advantages of becoming an academy.

"When we speak to principals of the original academies which have turned the school around, they tend to do the same things that an outstanding maintained school would do. The Government has yet to demonstrate what additional benefits there would be for outstanding schools," she said.

Shared services: cuts concern

School governors have bombarded schools minister Jonathan Hill with concerns about how they will buy in shared services as the role of local authorities shrinks and the private sector - as expected - moves in.

Delegates at the annual conference of the National Governors' Association told Lord Hill they were uneasy about councils already reducing what they could offer in school improvement services, special needs support, transport and music, because of the public sector cuts.

As more schools become separated from their local authorities, governors are worried about whether affordable, high-quality services will still be available, from either the public or private sectors.

They also raised questions about the amount of bureaucracy that could be generated in schools forced to procure services for themselves in a free market.

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