Essex County Council’s education boss has written to the Government today calling for an urgent rethink on plans to force all schools to become academies by 2022.
While the council remains supportive of the concept of academies, it believes schools should retain a say in whether they are converted and favours the current mix of schools.
In a letter to Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan MP, Cllr Ray Gooding raises concerns about various aspects of the Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper.
They include the loss of freedom of choice for schools, communities and parents, as well as a lack of public accountability and democracy, and doubts about how standards in schools will be scrutinised.
Essex is already on a fantastic school improvement journey, with more than 4 in 5 of the county’s schools currently rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. And Cllr Gooding, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning, has questioned the impact enforced academisation could have on that progress.
He said: “A lot of the proposals outlined in the white paper make good sense, but it is crucial the Government listens to feedback from schools and local authorities before railroading through with this.
“We would much rather schools and communities could choose for themselves whether they go down the academy route, and I urge the Government to think again.”
85 per cent of maintained schools in Essex are currently rated as good or outstanding, compared with 84 per cent of academies.
Cllr Gooding added: “Academies can be a good option in driving up standards in schools, but they are not a magic solution and the assumption that academies will automatically perform better is certainly questionable.
“While we do not run schools, we do play a vital role in proactively working with them to drive improvement. I am not convinced that unelected regional school commissioners have the capacity or local knowledge to do this.”
In addition, 66 per cent of the county’s 549 schools have yet to become academies and Cllr Gooding has also queried how the cost of conversion would be funded.
There are also concerns about the proposed withdrawal of education services grant funding by 2017 – at which time many schools will still be local authority maintained. Essex County Council would prefer this was done in line with the timescales for moving towards a national schools funding formula.
If the Government does persist with plans to force all schools to become academies, Cllr Gooding has echoed recent calls for high performing local authorities to be able to become multi-academy trusts.
He also insists it would be vital parents have a place on the governing boards of academies.
He added: “Whatever the Government’s decision, we will remain committed to our role in holding people to account to help ensure all pupils in Essex receive the best possible education.”