Councils wary of challenging 'powerful' academy CEOs over exclusions, warns Wilshaw

Councils have become “wary” of intervening with “powerful” academy trust CEOs over exclusions because they have been “marginalised” in their oversight of schools, the former head of Ofsted has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, who served as chief inspector between 2012 and 2016, told MPs today that local authorities should have a beefed-up duty to monitor exclusions of all pupils in their area, including those at academies.

I’m not sure local authorities know what is happening in schools, and particularly in schools that are not their own, academies and free schools, and feel wary of intervening with very powerful chief executives

Although headteachers have to report exclusions to their local authority, officials have voiced concerns about the ability of town halls to track pupils effectively as more and more schools have become academies.

Giving evidence to an inquiry held by the parliamentary education committee into knife crime, Wilshaw warned that local authorities “in many ways have been marginalised in terms of oversight of what goes on in schools over the last 10 to 15 years”.

“We’ve had the growth of academies and autonomous institutions, and I think the picture is confused at the moment,” he told MPs.

“I’m not sure local authorities know what is happening in schools, and particularly in schools that are not their own, academies and free schools, and feel wary of intervening with very powerful chief executives who will say ‘hold on a minute, you have no power, no influence on my institution’.

“There has to be a better balance, and local authorities need to have a part to play in monitoring what’s happening in all their schools, including academies and free schools.”

His comments echo evidence given to the committee last year by unions and council officials warning that the diversification of the school system has affected the relationship between town halls and schools. For example, Ralph Holloway, from Essex County Council, spoke of the challenges faced by councils when placing pupils in alternative provision.

“We might have had some involvement with that young person or we might not. It depends upon the individual school and the circumstances in which that young person was permanently excluded. We get a notification and within literally 24 hours we have to have that referral into one of our pupil referral units.

“Within six school days that young person will be starting their position with the PRU. There is not much room there for making an informed decision about what is the best provision for the young person.”

Speaking today, Wilshaw said there should not just be a duty to report to local authorities on exclusions, but a duty to monitor for the LA itself.

“Since a lot of these exclusions involve children with special educational needs and difficulties, [they] should be able to track what happens to a youngster from a poor background and special educational needs from nursery to key stage 1 to key stage 2 to key stage 3 to key stage 4, to track them and make sure they don’t fall through the net.

“We need a better balance in our system. I was no great fan of local authorities and they presided over a system which declined over 50 years and we’ve shaken it all up, but there has to be a part they have to play in monitoring what’s happening in all their schools including those which are autonomous.”