Academies

Councils should ‘trigger’ academy takeovers, says largest trust boss

But United Learning chief says local authorities should not run their own trusts, and calls for more intervention of struggling schools

But United Learning chief says local authorities should not run their own trusts, and calls for more intervention of struggling schools

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Councils should not run their own trusts and instead have the power to trigger academy rebrokers of failing schools, the boss of the country’s largest trust has said.

Outlining his vision for a fully-academy trust sector, United Learning chief executive Sir Jon Coles said local authorities should oversee “sufficiency” in their areas – with both oversight and powers to ensure enough school places, access to them and provision for vulnerable pupils.

Currently, regional directors who are employed by the Department for Education oversee transfers of underperforming schools, triggered by ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgments.

We shouldn’t have a system where only abject failure leads to change

But Coles called for more “dynamism” over intervention.

“We shouldn’t have a system where only abject failure leads to change, and we shouldn’t have a system where it takes many, many, many years to change,” he said at a Westminster Education Forum on Wednesday.

‘Take away’ our low-performing schools

He said schools in the “lower quartile” of performance, that are not improving and where the academy trust cannot improve when challenged “should be taken away from us”.

“It’s irrelevant to that community that we’re a good trust doing very well, what matters to them is that their local school isn’t as good as it should be.”

He said the “natural people” to “trigger this process” are councils as “they are the natural representatives of the community and nobody cares as much about their local community as the local authority”.

Although he said trusts should be given three to four years with such schools if there is evidence of improvement, to ensure there is an incentive for them to take on failing schools.

The current schools white paper proposes giving councils more intervention levers on admissions, for instance a “backstop power” to force trusts to admit children.

But a trial to allow councils to set up “spin-off” academy trusts themselves is also due to start this year. Twenty-nine councils have applied to take part.

However Coles said councils cannot have a commissioning role while also being a provider. For “local authorities to do all these roles well they must be unconflicted”, he added.

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