8 Future schools landscape and implementation
of education policy |
future schools landscape
192. Frank Green, the Schools Commissioner, told
us that he envisaged a fully academised system in the next six
years, explaining that "my view is that it needs to move
to one system or another, and I think it is more likely to go
down that pathway". He clarified that that he meant "a
trust-based system, where all schools are linked together in groups,
many of which would be the current version of academies and then
perhaps new versions of trust-based systems that are developed".
193. While this support for a fully academised system
has been echoed by think-tanks such as Policy Exchange (who advocate
that all primary schools should become academies by 2020),
most of the concerns raised during our inquiry and addressed in
our report can be seen to have arisen from the speed of implementation
of the programme, which may raise issues in relation to the roll-out
of the programme at primary level. Theodore Agnew, non-executive
board member at the DfE, agreed that "mistakes" had
been made within the academies programme, including the system
of direct central oversight which had emerged: he told us that
"I do not believe Whitehall should be overseeing 4,000 or
however many schools centrally".
194. When we visited Boston and New Orleans as part
of this inquiry to discuss what could be learned from charter
schools to inform the future implementation of the academies programme,
we were struck by the fact that the number of charter schools
in the US remains low and the sector has expanded slowly, with
only a threefold increase in the number of charter schools in
the US in the last 15 years. By comparison, the number of academies
in England grew from 203 to over 4,000 in the four year period
from May 2010 to May 2014.
195. The landscape for schools is very different
today from that of four years ago or earlier. Vincent McDonnell,
managing director of Prospects academy group, questioned "why
would schools look to become an academy?" now, given that
the landscape has changed so much and local authorities are working
with schools in different ways.
He suggested that "The majority of schools that are becoming
academies now are either very successful, outstanding schools
that seek or believe they should have more autonomy, or they are
schools in challenge".
By implication, schools that do not fall into either of these
two camps may have little desire to change their status.
196. Other witnesses agreed that it was not the structure
that mattered. Martin Pratt from the London Borough of Camden
told us "what I look forward to is a system where we are
clear about how an integrated system supports children to achieve
and creates high quality learning establishments [
question of whether or not all schools are academies is less important
than the characteristics that are being displayed by the system
within which those children are being educated".
197. This would require a change in attitude from
that previously displayed by the DfE. Critics suggested that it
appeared that the DfE was interested only in expansion and not
in the evidence that supported the policy or in learning lessons
from the experience so far. Chris Keates of the NASUWT told us
that "DfE officials have become evangelists for academisation".
Warwick Mansell argued that:
The problem for me is that the whole system is
being overseen by an organisation that is just wanting to ramp
up the numbers and sees that as its basic goal, whereas I think
that the very least that should happen is that somebody should
be saying, "Well, is it right for pupils in these schools,
or for all pupils?
198. David Blunkett MP, Secretary of State for Education
at the time of the first academies, warned that lessons must be
learned, beyond "we have got nothing to learn from it, except
to put our foot further on the accelerator and make it go faster".
He cautioned that schools could start to coast or deteriorate
in an "atomised" school system unless there is increased
"light-touch" monitoring and intervention.
199. The perception that there are now multiple systems
of accountability, with some schools potentially falling through
the cracks, and a lack of strategic oversight is shared by others.
Russell Hobby of the NAHT told the PAC: "it does feel that
although having diverse types of schools is very good, schools
are now managed in many different ways with different people being
accountable at different times".
He added that the difference in the geographical scope of operation
of regional schools commissioners, Ofsted regional directors and
local authorities could risk creating "a balkanised system"
and leave some schools falling "between the gaps of every
single form of offer".
Robert Hill argued to us:
We need to do away with this artificial divide
between whether a school is an academy or not. We need to have
an integrated system. [
] We need to have clarity so that
we know what schools are doing, driving the self improving system,
and we know what local authorities are doing in terms of place
] We then have the commissioners
200. There has been a change in the Ministerial message
about academies. The Secretary of State told us that her "vision
of the future is what we have now but to build on it: every child
having access to a good local school; parents being happy and
inspired by the education that their child is getting; the education
system preparing our children for life in modern Britain; [
a high quality teaching work force, who are dedicated and hard-working
and, I think, like everyone else in the education sector, wanting
the best for all children, who are at the heart of the education
She made it clear that she did not "want to set any targets"
for academisation but instead the priority was "the best
schools for our young people, [
] and every school to be
'good' or 'outstanding'".
Enacting policy in an autonomous
201. The capacity of the Secretary of State to compel
schools to implement policy is very different in academies and
maintained schools. David Wolfe QC wrote in evidence that:
the consequence of the legal underpinning of
academies (namely contracts which are made on the basis of an
ever-changing model) means that the Secretary of State is effectively
powerless to introduce changes across all schools (eg in relation
to school meal standards) without primary legislation (as currently
contemplated by the Children and Families Bill 2013 in relation
to children with SEN [Special Educational Needs] at academies).
202. The implications of this change in relationship
between schools and the Department has been highlighted by the
recent decision by the Government to introduce the active promotion
of 'British values' as a requirement in schools. For academies,
this has been implemented by means of a change to the Independent
School Standards which academies are required to follow under
their funding agreements. For state maintained schools, the DfE
has issued non-statutory guidance on how schools can demonstrate
that they are actively promoting British values through the requirement
that they must promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural
(SMSC) development of their pupils.
The Secretary of State cannot direct academies to follow new policies
as she can with maintained schools, and although requirements
can be written into new funding agreements, academies with an
existing agreement cannot be compelled to implement changes.
203. At the same time, the Government retains the
ability to restrict the autonomy of academies indirectly by such
means as national tests and accountability measures. Warwick Mansell
questioned whether this degree of centralisation is compatible
with the commitment to autonomy inherent in the academies policy:
We talk about standing back and giving academies
themselves the freedom to not follow that, but if you look at
the way that it is policed, basically, you have got national tests
that are being set up and holding schools to account in great
detail about how they perform on those tests, with serious consequences
for schools that do not do well. Schools cannot really get away
from following the national curriculum, so do we really have an
autonomous system now? I am not sure we do. 
Conclusions and recommendations
204. There have been major shifts in the structure
of schools in England over the last four years but it is salutary
to remember that, despite all the attention paid to academies
and free schools, of the 21,500 state-funded schools in England,
17,300 are maintained schools and 4,200 are academies as at August
is not the case that the system will inevitably achieve full academisation,
although for secondary schools that is already the dominant model
and the direction of travel is strongly indicated. We call on
the Government to spell out its vision for the future of schools
in England, including the structures and underpinning principles
that it envisages will be in place in five to ten years' time.
205. The oversight and intervention systems for
English state schools differ according to whether they have academy
or maintained status. Both major political parties have suggested
that all state schools may be brought under a single regime in
the future. Any future government should consider whether the
existing dual system is beneficial in encouraging the development
of more effective and earlier challenge to and remedies for underperformance.
206. For the new architecture to work most effectively
not only must individual academy performance be publicly transparent
but academy chains themselves must be as fully scrutinised as
local authorities. The DfE, in particular, needs to be far more
open about the implementation of the academies programme and how
it assesses and monitors schools and chains. This includes funding
and regulation by the EFA. Rather than seeing every request for
information as an attack on the policy, the DfE has much to gain
from transparency and clarity over its processes.
207. The process of conversion to academy status
has been exceptionally fast by international standards. We recommend
that the DfE review the lessons of the wholescale conversion of
the secondary sector to inform any future expansion.
308 Qq549-551` Back
Policy Exchange, The next stage of improvement for primary schools
in England, September 2014 Back
Q947 [Vincent McDonnell] Back
Oral evidence taken before the Public Accounts Committee on 17 November 2014,
HC (2014-15) 735, Q26 Back
Ibid, Q26 Back
David Wolfe QC (AFS0107) para 29 Back
324 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380595/SMSC_Guidance_Maintained_Schools.pdf Back
NAO, Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention,
HC (2014-15) 721, p5 Back