The Academies Bill: an opportunity for schools to have greater flexibility over their curriculum and facilities, but should the local community be asking questions? Dave Pinwell, SUSTAiN’s Chief Executive Officer, considers the issues.
The inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of the Academies Bill provides an opportunity for high performing schools to have greater independence as early as September this year. Consequently, we might ask ourselves a few questions:
- Will the interests of the local community be protected in any plans local schools may have?
- Does the local community need to start getting involved?
- Should organisations which represent either communities in general, or children and young people in particular, be considering their reaction?
Amongst the details of the proposals, as set out at number10.gov.uk, are to:
- Allow maintained schools* to apply to become academies and power for the Secretary of State to issue an Academy Order requiring the local authority to cease to maintain the school;
- Allow primary and special schools to apply to become an Academy in their own right for the first time and benefit from the increased freedoms and flexibilities that this will offer;
- Make the process of applying to become an Academy as simple as possible without a requirement for Local Authorities to be consulted;
- Provide schools with the freedoms to deliver an excellent education in the way they see fit, within a broad framework where they are clearly accountable for the outcomes they deliver.
(* a school which is not an independent school)
Initially, only schools with an outstanding Ofsted rating can apply to become an Academy. Nevertheless, the process is planned to move quickly with new academies opening as early as September this year, a mere three months from now.
Some believe that four of Solihull’s secondary schools will be eager to take advantage of the opportunity to have Academy status, and the greater autonomy and independence that goes with it, and that their Boards of Governors will be considering whether to aim for this coming September.
Can the communities which might be affected be confident that such a rapid change would be beneficial? The devil, as ever, will be in the detail and detail which is in the public domain seems a bit thin, at present. Questions which local communities may want to be answered might include:
- What consultation will take place with local stakeholders before a school applies to become an Academy?
- If an Academy has autonomy in its admissions process, will that disadvantage local children at all?
- How would increased freedom over the curriculum affect those who have already commenced their education in a school that converts to an Academy?
- If Boards of Governors in an Academy are less answerable to the Local Authority, does that mean, in turn, they are less answerable to local people?
- How will schools that convert be ‘clearly accountable for the outcomes they deliver’ and to whom?