Are we sleepwalking into a centralised education system?
Research carried out by the LGiU in 2011 found that most secondary are expected to be academies or free schools by 2015. Ultimately, this could mean that up to 24,000 schools and governing bodies are accountable solely to the Secretary of State.
Conversions to academy status, according to new data we collected over the summer, is creating gaps in accountablity, monitoring, schools support services and place planning. As the Economist reports, these functions are being “left to the Department for Education—a state of affairs described by one critic as “Napoleonic”.
For a forthcoming report, I conducted interviews with heads of academy chains, leading academic commentators and senior local government politicians and officers to assess the impact of this transformation.
Contributors, including chief executives of two major academy chains, argued that a “middle tier” in the education system between central government and schools was needed to ensure effective oversight of vital issues such as admissions. Without it, as one academy chain head argued, education could become more about competition for the most able than a service run for the benefit of all children.
Local authorities were seen by interviewees, including academy chief executives, as best-placed to act as a middle tier. There was little appetite for the creation of new bodies, such as regional commissioners or school boards. However, there was also a recognition that local government would need to be opened up further to transparent inspection and challenge.
LGiU will be launching our new report with the new schools minister David Laws MP at the Liberal Democrat party conference.