Councils call for local oversight of academy schools

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Published on Friday, 26 October 2012 10:07
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Councils should be given back powers to monitor the performance of academies in areas where they form more than half of all secondary schools in order to prevent standards in education from slipping, council leaders said today.

At the moment, when a school becomes an academy, responsibility for performance transfers to the Department for Education.

There are currently 2,373 academies, which are funded and overseen by central government. In 86 local authority areas, 50% or more of the secondary schools are, or are in the process of becoming, academies.

Council leaders are concerned that, as the number of academies grows, it will become impossible for the performance of such a large number of schools to be monitored from the centre. They fear that without local oversight, standards in schools may fall.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, is calling on the Government to give the responsibility for decisions on funding, improvement and intervention back to councils once an area has reached a point where more than half its secondary schools are academies.

It is concerned that without local intervention poor performance will not be spotted early enough and educational standards may slip.

It believes that the existence of the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which is responsible for the funding of academies, duplicates work already being carried out by councils for the schools they maintain, creating a needless cost to the taxpayer.

The LGA is calling for the functions of the EFA to be devolved to councils in areas where more than half of secondary schools are academies.

Speaking ahead of a debate on the future role of councils in education at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"All children deserve the best possible start in life and a high standard of education can set them on the path to success. Councils have a statutory duty to promote educational excellence in their areas and a central role in challenging and supporting schools that are underperforming.

"Every parent, quite rightly, expects to have a choice of high quality schools for their child. When they have concerns, their first port of call is usually their local council. The council role of holding schools to account and in turn being held to account by local people ensures that parents have a champion to support schools in helping children to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.

"Once the majority of secondary schools in an area have converted to academies, does the Secretary of State for Education have the capacity to monitor the performance of, and provide support to individual schools? We are concerned that by sheer weight of numbers some academies may be left to fall through the cracks.

"We are particularly concerned about the majority of recently-converted academies that do not have a sponsor to keep an eye on their performance and step in with support if standards start to decline. Councils, with their local knowledge and democratic mandate, are better placed than civil servants in Whitehall to keep an eye on these schools and to spot the early signs of declining performance.

"Councils have a proven track record of making sure all schools are accountable to the communities they serve. We want to make sure that councils continue to have a central role in championing educational excellence in their areas and of challenging schools to improve where they fall short."

Source: ©LGA

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