Government academy policy could take 140 years

DfE has today (6 December 2010) published the latest figures for its flagship academy programme. The figures do not make encouraging reading for Ministers.

The first step for a local authority school to become an academy is for the governing body to ask the Secretary of State for an Academy Order. The figures for Order requests are:

Orders requested Number
Up to 31 August 2010 139
Additional Orders up to 7 October 50
Additional Orders up to 5 November 35
Additional Orders up to 3 December 41

It looks like requests for Orders have stabilised at about 40 a month. At the present rate of progress, this will take 50 years for all maintained schools in England to request to become an Academy.

To be fair to the DfE, Orders are being processed fairly promptly and approvals are keeping up with requests. So that in the month up to 3 December, 40 Academy Orders were approved although many of these requests will have been lodged with the DfE in September and October.

However, the worrying fact for DfE Ministers is that only 14 schools were converted to academy status in the period up to 3 December. This means a big backlog of schools which have a Secretary of State approved Academy Order waiting to go the final hurdle to academy status. This final hurdle – the Academy Agreement – is obviously proving problematic but so far ministers have remained silent about what the problems are. The hard fact remains that on this basis, it could take 140 years for all schools to convert to academy status.

Further information about the complex conversion process can be found in the LGIU publication, Academies Act 2010: a concise guide.

If you want further information, contact John Fowler, 077 1979 5339.

    1. johnfowlerlgiu says:

      Thanks Richard – I can only speculate why it is taking the DfE such a long time to agree Funding Agreements (also known as the Academy Agreement). One, is that Whitehall has a good track record at advising Ministers, but a poor track record on managing services. Look at the IT contract disasters. Perhaps managing the complex conversion process is one step too far. Another is that the Articles of Assocaition is a constituent part of the Agreement. This sets out the governance arrangements for the Academy, and I can imagine that there could be disagreement between the school and Whitehall about how the academy will be governed. Another is land. Establishing the ownership of land if it has not been done previously can be difficult, and then getting a lease from the owners can also take time. And Fiona is right: the potential academy and Whitehall have to agree on a host of other issues. The process is a bit more convoluted than passing a resolution and waiting three months.

      It is perhaps not surprising that schools do not want to engage with parents on such a complicated issue. Being a parent is hard enough: expecting parents to understand a near incomprehenisble conversion process may be one step too far if you just want to create a positive aura about the conversion process. I do not beleive for one moment that parents do not care about who governs their children’s schools.

    2. Hmmm, to be honest I am in the dark and I guess most parents are.

      My son’s school said they were investigating becoming an academy and would decide whether “to go onto the next stage” at the last governors’ meeting. I see that the DfE list does not list the school at all, so they are at an early stage.

      The problem is that no one seems to know the pros or cons, other than in terms of platitudes (pros) or cynicism (cons). This is why I am interested when you say that the “Academy Agreement is proving problematic” (Fiona Millar says this “incorporate vital issues about land, funding, admissions, teachers pay and conditions”). If there are issues there, then that is a huge con as far as I am concerned.

      Incidentally, when the school told parents that they were seeking academy status I sent a letter asking for more details and a chance for the school to engage with parents over this. Later I was told that there wouldn’t be a parents’ meeting, and my letter was one of just three received. This indicates to me that either schools are not publicising the issue, or that parents don’t care. Given that I am finding it difficult to list the cons, and so completely in the dark about the status, I guess the latter is the case.

    3. johnfowlerlgiu says:

      Thanks leftyorrighty for your comment. Of course, Government policy is going to change in 140 years in response to what schools want. It is 130 years ago that the government decided to create in parts of the country locally elected bodies to establish and run state financed schools – and the school system has changed quite a lot since then. The “140 years” shows that the DfE is not able to process the number of schools wanting to become academies due to the complex and bureaucratic process set out in the Academies Act 2010 especially the Funding Agreement. The “50 years” shows that on current policies it will still be a long time before all schools become academies, so anybody working in local government who thinks it is time to pack their bags needs to think again.

    4. leftyorrighty says:

      The 140 years thing is very misleading as it presumes that applications for academy status will continue at the same rate for the next 140 years.
      Either the early adopters will be successful and the remainder will decide “I want some of that”, therefore increasing the take up rate and slickness of the approval system or they’ll fail and the whole scheme will disintegrate.

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