Schools Bill

Dear Liz, Time for an academisation L-turn

Local authorities, not the Department for Education, should take charge of hiring and firing MATs, writes Joe Hallgarten

Local authorities, not the Department for Education, should take charge of hiring and firing MATs, writes Joe Hallgarten

23 Sep 2022, 5:00

Welcome back, Prime Minister Truss! Not long ago, you were at the Department for Education advising schools on maths “chunking”. Now you’re in charge of the country. You spent two months serenading Tory members with your love song for grammar schools, but now it’s time to start governing in prose. The sector’s response this week to the idea of lifting the ban on grammars is just a prelude for what’s to come.

For the foreseeable, education policy is likely only to add to your cost-of-living-saturated in-tray. And even throwing money at the problem is unlikely to buy leverage from a sector that’s entirely fed up with the far-from-competent DfE of the past two years.

In the meantime, you’ve cleverly swerved a decision on whether to sort or abort the schools bill left in tatters by your predecessor. But sorting out the chaos of current academy regulation can’t wait too long, especially if your aspiration is still to deliver a fully MAT-led system by 2030.

One option is a strategic change, not so much a U turn than an L turn. Not L for left. L for localism. As they stand, academisation plans continue a three-decade journey towards making our school system possibly the most centralised in the world. It’s not very conservative, and in the words of one CEO I spoke to recently, the very notion of the DfE (or any new quango) holding funding agreements with hundreds of MATs is simply a ‘mad idea’.

Luckily, there is an obvious alternative. Why not devolve the commissioning and decommissioning of MATs to local authorities? Why not deliver, deliver, deliver genuine devolution, and a reduction in the DfE headcount that would make Jacob Rees-Mogg proud?

Academisation has been called many things, but it’s really just another form of outsourcing. My local council has been commissioning an external provider to collect my rubbish for years. It negotiates, terminates and retenders contracts. There are national regulations, but the idea that someone in Whitehall, rather than my town hall, would choose who collects my bins is ridiculous.

Why not deliver, deliver, deliver genuine devolution?

Schools of course are not dustbins. What MATs do is nuanced and sophisticated, based on deep knowledge of the sector and charitable purpose. But this is even more of an argument for why decisions about who runs schools should be taken by those who can be held democratically accountable by their local communities. As local authorities continue to reduce their number of maintained schools, their role as honest brokers only becomes more realistic and desirable.

To do this, we must first end the crazy notion that local authorities should start trusts. They can’t be providers as well as commissioners. Jettison the current pilot involving 29 LAs. Test and learn from this instead: Make local authorities with no more maintained secondary schools the commissioner for all trusts that run secondary schools in their patch, and transfer funding agreements from DfE to them as soon as feasible. Primaries will take longer, but you may find them more willing to join MATs under this arrangement.

Some LAs are possibly too small to take on this role alone, but existing collaborative arrangements between local authorities, or even at mayoral level, could be the ideal places to hold trusts to account locally.

Yes, some trusts will need relationships with different commissioners. Such is life when you want to run schools in more than one patch. Yes, there might be some regional variation in funding agreements and priorities. This is what local democratic ownership and scrutiny looks like (and anyway the new national funding formula will help to avoid such local discrepancies).

In reality, my guess is that actual decommissioning or transfer of schools from one MAT to another would be rare, and this power would be used sparingly. The DfE might need some powers of last resort, and will continue to set various regulatory frameworks for all MATs to follow.

Liberated from the shackles of thousands of funding agreements, maybe DfE will perform other functions better. And that’s something school and MAT leaders would be truly thankful for.

Latest education roles from

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Barnsley College

School Liaison Admissions Tutor

School Liaison Admissions Tutor

Riverside College

Study Coach

Study Coach

Heart of Yorkshire Education Group

Lecturer in Maths

Lecturer in Maths

Heart of Yorkshire Education Group

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Ark Greenwich Free School

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspire creativity in your classroom. Sky Arts’ Access All Arts week is back!

Now in its third year, Access All Arts week is a nationwide celebration of creativity for primary schools (17-21...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Unleash the Power of Sport in your setting this summer! National School Sports Week is back!

Unleash the Power of Sport this summer with National School Sports Week powered by Monster Kickabout! From 17-23 June,...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Schools Bill

What changing government policy means for faith academies

The schools bill features a number of important proposals specifically relating to faith schools. Vicki Hair sets out what...

JL Dutaut
Academies, Schools Bill

Schools bill: New academy standards could dictate trust board make-up

Analysis: Draft law seeks greater control over school system, with standards on pay and school day length also considered

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *