Lack of capacity and performance risks children's education

LGA media release 18 October 2016

Data released today highlights the scale of the challenge faced by civil servants responsible for academies, along with better performance of council-maintained schools compared to academies in all areas of the country. Council leaders argue today that this suggests a serious lack of capacity and capability within the civil service to press ahead with the Government's school academisation agenda, which could risk children's education.

The report, commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) which represents councils in England and Wales, reveals that nearly half a million pupils are in academies that have been assessed by Ofsted as either inadequate or requiring improvement since conversion. 45 per cent of sponsored academies are still awaiting their first full Ofsted inspection. Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) are responsible for academies and free schools; today's report reveals that council-maintained schools outperform academies in every RSC region of the country.

There are currently just eight RSCs responsible for almost a quarter of schools in England, totalling more than 5,000 academies and free schools. Each RSC is currently working with, on average, nearly 100 academies that are rated less than good, or around one in six of the inspected schools they have responsibility for. This is in addition to those schools currently unrated.

Today's report, however, highlights that councils perform better when it comes to school improvement, with 89 per cent of council-maintained schools rated as good or outstanding, compared to:

  • 62 per cent of sponsored academies;
  • 88.5 per cent of convertor academies; and
  • 82 per cent of free schools.

Despite the higher performance of council-maintained schools the Education and Adoption Act 2016 gave RSCs parallel powers with councils to intervene in council-maintained schools, with councils having to ask permission from RSCs before they use their powers to turn around failing schools.

The Government has stated that it wants to see all schools become academies by 2022, with some schools being forced to convert if they are rated inadequate, or if their local authority is deemed "unviable", which is yet to be defined. Councils' legal role in overseeing and improving school standards is also proposed to come to an end under the Education for All Bill which will be considered by Parliament early next year.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Local councils have consistently proven themselves to be more effective at raising school standards than Regional School Commissioners, and this is no surprise. Each council is working with fewer schools, who they have good, long-standing relationships with, and they know what's needed in their local areas. It is simply asking too much to expect RSCs to effectively turn around dozens of schools across a huge area.

"Clearly where a school is failing, regardless of whether it's council-maintained or an academy that an RSC is responsible for, action must be taken swiftly to raise standards. However, that action will be different for every school, and simply changing a structure is rarely the answer. Schools must have the freedom to choose the best structure for their pupils, whether that's working with their council, a sponsor or the local RSC.

"Placing more and more power in the hands of few unelected civil servants, who parents cannot hold to account at the ballot box is out of sync with the Government's aims to devolve more decision-making and responsibility down to local areas and communities. With the Government planning to end councils' role in supporting school improvement and intervening in failing schools from next year, we have yet to be convinced that RSCs have the track record or the capacity to take on responsibility for another 13,000 schools.

"We would urge the Government to re-consider its plans for full academisation and to focus on working with councils to ensure all our children get the excellent education they deserve."

In its submission to the Treasury ahead of the Autumn Statement, the LGA has called on the Government to take advantage of councils' unique position in the community and give them a clear and strategic role in overseeing local schools systems, accompanied by appropriate resources, powers and flexibilities, so that they can support local school improvement and hold schools to account for education standards.

Notes to editors

  1. The research includes Ofsted inspections published up to the end of July 2016.
  2. Of 885 sponsored academies that have been inspected following conversion so far, 335, or 38 per cent, have been rated as "requires improvement" or "inadequate".
  3. Sponsored academies were generally rated "requires improvement" or "inadequate" prior to changing their status, while almost all most convertor academies were "good" or "outstanding", prior to becoming academies.
  4. The research was commissioned by the LGA and carried out by Angel Solutions, the authors of the inspection report database Watchsted.

17 October 2016


David Mills
020 7664 3200