Irwin Mitchell | Focus on Education | Is the academisation of all schools still on the cards despite the apparent U turn?

Is the academisation of all schools still on the cards despite the apparent U turn?

The Chancellor announced in his March 2016 Budget statement that the Government intended to convert all state-funded schools in England to academy status by 2022. This represented a major reform of the English school system and provoked furious debate and widespread opposition which resulted in an announcement by the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, that she was abandoning plans to force all schools to convert.

The Queens Speech unveiled plans to target underperforming schools and, more controversially those maintained by cash strapped, unviable or underperforming local authorities.

Whilst much of the detail remains hazy, this is what has been announced:

  1. A new Bill be will be published, entitled Education for All
  2. Schools that are judged to be failing to meet “minimum performance thresholds” (not yet defined) will have to convert to academy status
  3. Schools that are judged to be “good” or “outstanding” may be able to stay under local authority control, unless the local authority is underperforming or unviable. These concepts have not been explained in detail. Viability is likely to depend on how many schools within the area have already converted; where a critical mass of schools have converted, the local authority will not be considered to be viable. The concept of performance standards is likely to be linked to whether the local authority can bring about meaningful school improvement.
  4. The Bill will legislate to ensure “all schools are funded fairly”, aiming to redress “historical unfairness” in school funding by introducing a national funding formula. This will, apparently, make sure that money is allocated to schools fairly and efficiently, but no detail has been made available yet.

Will all schools have to become academies?

Despite the much publicised U turn on forced academisation, the education think-tank CentreForum believe that the vast majority of schools will still be forced to convert. It has made predictions about academy status based on two assumptions. These are that a local authority is:

  • Unviable: if less than half of the pupils in the area attend local authorities maintained schools
  • Underperforming: if the performance of its maintained schools at either key stage 2 or key stage 4 is below the current national average for state-funded mainstream schools. Although these levels appear to be high, both are below the attainment element of the Department’s proposed coasting measure for schools, and assessment at both key stages is set to get tougher with the introduction of new assessment in primary and the introduction of new GCSEs.

If the Government used the same methodology, CentreForum argue that around 12,000 schools will be forced to convert under the local authority approach to school conversion. Currently, 15,000 schools have not yet converted to an academy, leaving just 3,000 under this analysis. Of these, around 640 are rated as outstanding.

It argues that “given the combination of voluntary conversion, academisation under the Education and Adoption Act and direction at local authority, it is possible that full academisation (or very close to it) could be achieved without forcing schools one at a time.” If correct, the Government may well still achieve its published intention to see all schools become academies in the next six years.

You can read more on the report here.