Stalling academy plans causing problems for councils

A new report has claimed that it is taking longer than expected to turn under-performing schools into academies, causing ‘considerable variation’ across the country.

The National Audit Office’s Converting maintained schools to academies report says that a much higher proportion of secondary schools than primary schools have become academies, with the Department for Education having spent an estimated £745 million since 2011 on the programme. The findings show that 72 per cent of secondary schools, including free schools, are academies compared with 27 per cent of primaries, leaving local authorities with responsibility and influence over primary and specialist schools, but less say in secondary education.

Further to this, the report also noted delays in converting ‘inadequate’ schools to academies because of difficulties finding sponsors, saying more action was needed in identifying financial risks and strengthening assurance that trustees were appropriate people to be responsible for public money.

The Department for Education maintains that schools rated as inadequate by Ofsted are obliged to become academies, with the aim of this happening within nine months. However, the NAO said that almost two-thirds of these schools take longer to open as academies.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “It is unclear how feasible it will be for the Department to continue converting large numbers of schools to academies. There is extensive variation across the country, leaving many local authorities with responsibility largely for primary schools. To cut through this complexity, the Department needs to set out its vision and clarify how it sees academies, maintained schools and local authorities working together to create a coherent and effective school system for children across all parts of the country.”