Call for councils to intervene in struggling academies as figures show divide in Ofsted ratings

A new study suggests that the national picture mirrors the situation in Northumberland where council-run schools are outperforming academies.

Friday, 31st May 2019, 10:08 am
Northumberland County Council asked to become a formal partner to work with the governing body at the struggling Berwick Academy earlier this year. Picture by Jane Coltman

The report, published by Angel Solutions and commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), shows that schools which remain with their local authority are more likely to keep a good or outstanding Ofsted rating than those which become an academy, based on how they have fared over the past five years.

It also found that schools that were rated as requires improvement or inadequate were more likely to become good or outstanding if they remained council-maintained and did not convert to an academy.

As part of its #CouncilsCan campaign, the LGA is calling for councils to be allowed to intervene and improve all types of school found to be inadequate – regardless of whether it is a maintained school or academy.

The current rules mean that maintained schools with inadequate Ofsted judgements have to become sponsor-led academies.

In Northumberland, Coun Wayne Daley, the county council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, has said: “We want to work with all schools in Northumberland, maintained and academies, to achieve the highest standards of education and to improve educational performance and outcomes for all of our children and young people across the county.”

The council stepped into save Haydon Bridge High School last year after Bright Tribe withdrew as the academy sponsor, while Coun Daley earlier this year made a plea to the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) to allow the county council to become a formal partner to work with the governing body at the struggling Berwick Academy.

This call came not long after we reported that pupils in Northumberland are much more likely to be at a decent council-controlled school than academy – at primary or secondary level.

Those figures showed that a respectable 70.6% of maintained secondary schools are good or outstanding, with 78.4% of pupils at a good or outstanding school, compared to 43.8% and 56.3% respectively at academies.

At primary level, where there are far fewer academies, the maintained sector still performs much better with 88.2% rated good or outstanding and 88.9% of pupils at schools ranked accordingly, compared to 54.5% and 55.3% at academies.

Reflecting on their national figures, Coun Anntoinette Bramble, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “These findings clearly show that staying under council control delivers better results for a school than those which convert to an academy.”

She added: “While academisation might be the answer in some cases, it is not always the best solution.

“Councils have an excellent track record in improving schools and need to be given the necessary powers to intervene and support schools.”

Meanwhile, Northumberland Labour’s deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson, has described the Government’s ‘lack of faith and confidence in its own state schools’ as ‘sad’, in relation to the creation of a new special school in the county.

The county council recently held an event for trusts which could be interested in running this school, which was approved following a successful bid to the Government.

The new facility is set to provide places for secondary-age pupils, who have autism and social, emotional and mental-health needs, both from Northumberland and neighbouring authorities, and will be based on the site of the former Princess Louise First School in Blyth.

In line with the requirements of the initiative, it has to be run by an academy trust as a free school, which is a non-profit-making, independent, state-funded school that is free to attend but not wholly controlled by the local authority.

Coun Dickinson welcomed the new provision as a ‘a vast improvement for families who have had to send their children out of the county to meet their needs’.

But he added: “I’ve no doubt there are some inspiring and effective academy trusts, but to ignore the very many excellent local authority-run schools seems to me a little short-sighted.

“There is a wealth of knowledge, skill and expertise in our local-authority schools which change and improve the lives of our children on a daily basis.”

Bid documents for interested trusts are available on the council’s website and the deadline for applications is Monday, September 30.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service