Coronavirus: Put academy conversions on hold, says councils' body

Academy conversions should be put on hold so that councils can focus on supporting schools to stay open, according to the body representing local authorities.

The Local Government Association believes council time spent on dealing with conversions of maintained schools into academies is “undermining council efforts to coordinate sufficient school places for vulnerable children and children of key workers”.

But a body representing academy trusts said suspending conversions would “create further delay and uncertainty”.

Despite the ongoing pressure on schools and councils as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, a number of academy conversions already approved by government are reportedly still going ahead.

Part of the problem facing town halls is that academisation requires contracts with suppliers to be re-negotiated. The LGA says this conflicts with government guidance urging schools to continue paying their suppliers.

Councils also have to deal with the transfer of staff and assets like land and property to new sponsors.

Judith Blake, who chairs the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils’ number one priority is to help keep schools open and support families in need, including those with vulnerable children on free school meals, at risk of abuse or with disabilities.

“Council staff are working flat out at reduced capacity, and taking council teams away from their primary duty of care to see through applications for academy conversions is clearly not in the interest of either councils or schools during this unprecedented time.”

Blake said the LGA wants to “work with the Government to ensure that schools are given the support they need over the immediate term, and this includes urgently placing a temporary pause on academy conversions during this time”.

The NAHT, which represents school leaders, mostly in the primary school sector, has backed the call.

“Councils, like schools, are operating with limited staff and resources during a very difficult time,” said general secretary Paul Whiteman. “We agree that only the most urgent and essential work should be going ahead, and everything that can be paused should be.”

But Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, which represents academy chains, said: “It does not make sense for conversions to be put on hold.

“This would create further delay and uncertainty. It could also have the unintended consequence of slowing down or reversing school improvement, thereby impacting negatively on pupils’ learning.”