Schools commissioner: Council workers could set up academy trusts

Council education staff could be encouraged to set up and run multi-academy trusts (MATs), the national schools commissioner has said.

Sir David Carter told the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference today that he would “welcome a conversation” with those “currently employed” by local authorities who might want to become sponsors of academies.

His comments come in the context of a government move towards full academisation as set out in the Conservative Party manifesto and strengthened by the passing of the education and adoption bill by Parliament last week.

In one of his first public engagements since he took on the role of national commissioner, Sir David responded to a question about whether councils would ever be allowed to sponsor academies by saying he was more interested in speaking to education services workers who wanted to move on.

He said: “Whether local authorities should become sponsors or the people in local authorities form MATs and lead them, because of the talent pool we’ve got available in local authorities, I think that’s the interesting part of that.”

Sir David said conversations on the subject would have to happen “quite soon”, with primary schools which “look right now to local authorities for their support” facing a change in that relationship as a result of forced academisation.

He added: “If the emphasis is on changing that relationship in the future then where does that support come from? They’ve got a great relationship with those people.

“I certainly think that the people who are currently employed by local authorities might choose to become sponsors and set up trusts themselves and I would welcome that conversation.”

The fact that councils are no longer allowed to open new schools is the subject of a long-running campaign by the Local Government Association, which has warned that there aren’t enough “viable” academy chains to take on extra schools.

In a seminar which aimed to offer an insight into MATs – Sir David used to run the Bristol-based Cabot Learning Federation – the former regional schools commissioner for south west England also offered a glimpse at the apparently changing nature of free school applications, with an emphasis on alternative provision.

Reflecting on the 11th wave of bids, the deadline for which passed this week, Sir David said the government was seeing “a real increase in the number of free schools that are around the alternative provision dimension”.

Sir David said this was happening in part because people were “recognising that those provisions are not tight enough in their communities and they want to take a close look at that”.

He added: “I welcome that, and it feels like an intelligent use of the policy.”

Plans for a four-tier hierarchy of academy trusts, which would see those with roughly 30 or more schools become “system leaders” and report directly to Sir David’s office, were also discussed, with the commissioner admitting the threshold numbers were “not set in stone”, and claiming to have found nine initial members for the top tier, despite Schools Week analysis which shows only eight have more than 30.

Sir David also emphasised the need for a “health check” before trusts are allowed to expand, explaining that the government had to properly manage the potential creation of “1,000 more MATs by 2020”.

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  1. So council employees could set up a MAT with a group of local schools.

    They could give a lot of support to their schools and involve local parents. They could call it “Oxfordshire LEA” or “Essex LEA”. Then they could give more control to their schools and call it LMS (Local Management of Schools) and have oversight of each school by each school having their own board of governors with elected parent governors. The local group of schools could collaborate.

    There could be planning for school places so that no child was left out and schools could make sure that all children were catered for.

    It might take about 20 years to get to this level of autonomy combined with local accountability.

    I wonder why no-one has thought of doing this? Wait a minute …..

    • Janet Downs

      Unfortunately, Sir David recommends LA workers setting up MATs and ‘moving on’. In other words, using their LA expertise to establish MATs which will decrease the effectiveness of LA stewardship.
      Something similar happened in Lincolnshire. Lincs School Improvement Service was (and still is) run by CfBT who was Lincolnshire Council’s preferred sponsor back in 2011 when the LA recommended all its schools become academies. But CfBT is now struggling and it’s dumped (or is dumping) two of its Lincs academies (which just happen to be RI and Inadequate). There was concern in 2011 about conflict of interest between an employee of Lincs who was also connected to CfBT. This was denied but any council employees proposing to leave LA employment to run MATs which they have set up while in LA employ could also be accused of conflicts of interest.

  2. And while the council employees are setting up and running the MAT, presumably they will be neglecting the work they should be doing for the Council. If they work in the education department, this will have a detrimental effect on schools and, if they work in any other department, do they have the expertise to run anything other than, say, refuse collection or legal affairs?