Failing academy schools could be taken over by Surrey County Council

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The leader of Surrey County Council said he would ‘certainly consider’ using new powers to set up his own academies. Local authorities will be allowed to set up multi-academy trusts for the first time, as part of the government’s Opportunity for All Schools white paper published on Monday (28 March).

Traditionally, these have been charitable trusts that run a number of state-funded schools independently of the board. Established by the Labor government under Tony Blair and later adopted by Conservative governments, the academies receive funding directly from central government rather than through local authorities.

Surrey Conservative council leader Tim Oliver said he believed the academy model “didn’t necessarily work”. He said the new policy would allow them to reverse the removal of schools from local authority control, if they had subsequently failed.

Read more: Surrey to get £100m special education needs bailout and slammed for ‘failure’

The council has not confirmed whether it will, but says it has a “close eye” on the government’s proposals. Cllr Oliver said: “The county councils [or unitaries] can now set up their own academies if they wish or they can take schools out of failing academies and I think that’s a very good thing.

“I think the academy system is a mixed blessing. The education authority I think is still the best person to run the schools. We have lost a number of schools to academies and some of those academies have failed, this way we can set up our own academies.

He said they would “start having conversations with schools that are failing the academy [trusts] in the very near future”. So far this school year, Ofsted has inspected 36 primary and secondary schools in Surrey. Of these, a quarter were rated as Needs Improvement or Worse – of which six are academies and three are run by the local authority. Although only one of the three with the lowest rating of Inadequate is an academy.

At the other end of the scale, they are about evenly matched – 13 academies and 14 maintained schools rated good or better. This is just an overview of the county’s 398 public schools.

The government document this week says high-performing academic trusts achieve economies of scale and “use their collaborative structure to… train, retain and deploy excellent teachers where they are needed most, develop and share ambitious programs and provide targeted support to raise standards”.

But “where too few strong trusts exist”, specifies the white paper: “Local authorities will be able to establish new multi-academic trusts. So far, local authorities have not been able to set up trusts, which has been a hindrance for some of the best local authority run schools helping other schools to succeed. We want to enable effectively functioning trusts for the primary schools that make up the majority of the remaining maintained sector.

A spokesman for Surrey County Council said: ‘As always, we are following government proposals carefully, particularly around issues affecting local government and our residents. We will await the full proposals around the white paper on education and consider our response.

“We are proud of our education system in Surrey and will always seek to work alongside our education providers, teachers and parents to ensure Surrey’s children have the best start in life.”

Less than half (47%) of state schools in Surrey are academies, slightly more than the national picture (41%), but the government report says all schools should be part of or be in the process of joining a trust multi-academy. by 2030.

George Osborne, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to make all schools academies by 2020 but backtracked after teachers threatened to strike. Academies can employ unqualified teachers and are not required to follow the national curriculum outside of core subjects.

Lucy Nethsingha, Deputy Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People’s Council, said: ‘We are delighted that the government has followed through on our call for councils to be allowed to set up their own multi- academies. Councils have a crucial role to play in education, from ensuring that every child has a place in school to turning struggling schools around, as they have shown by providing vital support for schools during the pandemic.

Of the 392 schools in Surrey that have been inspected by Ofsted (only six have not), 91% are rated as good or exceptional, compared to 86% in England.

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