LGA: Allow local authorities to ‘sponsor’ failing schools

The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for the government to allow local authorities to intervene in underperforming schools.

As the Education and Adoption Bill heads to the committee stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the LGA believes local authorities and high-performing maintained schools should be able to step in and sponsor failing schools.

The bill will require “coasting” or “failing” schools to become sponsored academies. The Department for Education (DfE) last month put out a consultation on the definition of coasting.

But, the LGA has said “only three of the 20 largest academy chains” are “viable” to take on additional schools.

Councils have reported a lack of sponsors in their authorities, which the LGA says is “hampering” the ability to open new schools.

Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “For parents, who are far more concerned with the quality of their child’s education in the classroom than the legal status of the school, it is the council that they still frequently and naturally turn to for advice and support. However, councils’ current powers to intervene are strictly limited.

“The Education and Adoption Bill provides the ideal opportunity to right this wrong and should allow councils and the best maintained schools to share their extensive experience and expertise, and help provide support to school leadership teams to ensure standards rapidly improve.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) welcomed the LGA’s proposed amendment.

Christine-BlowerGeneral secretary Christine Blower (left) pointed to analysis by Henry Stewart, of the Local Schools Network, who produced data showing sponsored secondary academies are almost “four times as likely to remain ‘inadequate’ compared with maintained schools” and sponsored primary academies are “12 times as likely” as their maintained counterparts to remain ‘inadequate’.

She added: “The measures in the Education and Adoption Bill have little to say on school improvement. They are designed instead to bring about the conversion of all England’s schools into academies – a wish that has been clearly articulated by the prime minister.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The quality of academy sponsors varies hugely and, unless the government allows academy chains to be inspected in the same way it inspects local authorities, schools cannot be sure which chain is the right sponsor for their school.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Becoming an academy with the support of a strong sponsor helps create the conditions for rapid and sustained improvement. We already work with many good sponsors and earlier this week named five chains which will work with schools and other groups to help drive up standards in parts of the north of England where historically performance has been poor.

“All ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools have the freedom to convert to academy status either as standalone converters or as part of a multi-academy trust to share their expertise with other schools.

“Academies are a vital part of our plan for education and the freedoms enjoyed by these schools are transforming the education for hundreds of thousands of pupils across the country.”

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  1. John Fowler

    Schools Week is behind the times, the Lords Committee debate on coasting schools took place last Thursday, 5 November I’ll leave you guys to distil the important bits.

    Let it be understood, there is nothing in primary legislation which prevents a maintained school from sponsoring an Academy. Indeed, it was actively encouraged by the last Labour Government’s White Paper 21st Century Schools except that the then Government wanted to ‘approve’ such maintained schools. This restriction can be found in the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010, a provision that the then Conservative Opposition did not object to but has not commenced. The coalition government did find the restriction in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, and the provision of local authority influenced companies. This does not prevent a maintained school sponsoring an Academy, although will produce a headache for the local authority’s s.151 office (to slip into local government jargon). The problem could be solved by amending regulations on accounting for local authority companies.

    The LGA has missed the boat for the Lords Committee Stage of the E&A Bill. Will it get its act together for the Report Stage?