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Maintained schools outperforming academies – Time for councils to support failing academies

Councils are today calling for high performing maintained schools to be able to sponsor struggling schools without having to seek academy status first. This comes as new research undertaken by the Local Government Association reveals that 91 per cent of council maintained schools are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Local government leaders are calling for central government to remove the bureaucratic barriers currently stopping councils from helping underperforming schools and allow high performing maintained schools to play a direct role in raising education standards and improving life chances, including taking on the running of failing academies. Councils should also be able to sponsor ‘orphan schools’ who cannot find a sponsor because they are considered to be unviable. This could be an important protection for struggling small rural schools.

The LGA, which represents over 370 councils across England and Wales, has previously raised concerns about the lack of academy sponsors and the ability of Regional Schools Commissioners to allow councils and community schools to help failing academies.

In September 2014, eight Regional School Commissioners (RSC) were appointed by government with a remit to hold academies to account. But with such a large, remote and diverse range of schools under their watch, they still lack local knowledge and the capacity to tackle all problems associated with the rising failings of academies.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“With 91 per cent of council schools now rated good or outstanding, councils and the schools that they maintain have proven they have the track record, experience and expertise to help lift schools out of academic failure.

“The Government must commit to removing the unnecessary red tape and give high performing maintained schools the option of becoming academy sponsors.

“Councils want to be regarded as improvement partners, not obstructionists to school improvement. Hundreds of schools across the country continue to be turned around thanks to the intervention of councils and their ability to support strong leadership, outstanding classroom teaching and appoint effective support for staff and governors.

“This is further upheld by the fact that 70 per cent of academies were previously good or outstanding council maintained schools, refuting the claim that academy performance is poor because they have taken on underperforming maintained schools.

“With a shortage of academy sponsors and struggling schools currently in the dark about their future the simplest remedy is to give councils the power to turn these schools around where this is the best option locally.

“Councils are best placed to oversee school effectiveness and take immediate action where required. With Regional Schools Commissioners strictly limited to overseeing academic standards, the early warning signs of failing such as safeguarding concerns or financial problems risk being overlooked. It is not acceptable that we have to wait for poor exam results, whistleblowing about financial impropriety or an Ofsted inspection to trigger intervention. With oversight by councils and strong links built with RSCs, mums and dads would be reassured that a council’s regular contact with their school will ensure nothing falls through the cracks.”

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