Academies and free schools - Education Contents

9  Conclusion

208. The landscape of schooling in England has been transformed over the last five years. As an administrative feat the delivery of so many schools into academy status has been remarkable and all the more so given the large reductions in staffing levels at the central department. Academy sponsorship has encouraged and facilitated the contribution of individuals not previously involved in education provision and laid down a challenge to maintained schools to improve or face replacement by the insurgent academy model. The development of outstanding Multi Academy Trusts like Ark and Harris offers an alternative system to the one overseen by local authorities while the unified Ofsted inspection regime and published performance data generally allows fair judgement of comparative performance.

209. At the end of this Parliament there are more good schools in England than ever before: 82% of primary schools and 71% of secondary schools have been rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding.[327] Time and research will improve understanding of which factors have contributed most to this welcome development. In the meantime the Government should stop exaggerating the success of academies and be cautious about firm conclusions except where the evidence merits it. Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.

210. One of the two major themes which has run throughout our evidence base and our report is the speed with which the Government pressed ahead with academisation and the need now to reflect and refine its policy going forward. The second major theme has been transparency. The DfE needs to be far more open about the implementation of the academies programme and how it assesses and monitors schools and chains. We welcome the appointment of the regional schools commissioners as a step towards making oversight more local again, but any lasting solution will need to be more local still and develop effective working with local authorities. This is particularly important in the case of stand-alone academies which have the potential to become isolated without challenge or assistance from other schools, an academy sponsor or the local authority.

211. One of the benefits of the expansion of academies has been the opportunity to develop competition between the providers of oversight, support and intervention systems for schools, whether they are academy chains or local authorities. Academy trusts have no legitimacy other than that earned through effective performance in their schools and can be "paused" from expansion or lose schools if they underperform. Whereas there were few if any alternatives to local authority oversight in the past, now a weak education authority knows that it must improve or lose schools from the maintained sector forever. For children, parents and the community it is the quality of education, not the status of the provider which is the measure of success. Too often in the past the democratic mandate of local authorities acted as a protective cloak for failings and excused slow or inadequate intervention. The tension which now exists between the maintained and academy sectors is a healthy one.

212. Both academies and state maintained schools have a role to play in system-wide improvement by looking outwards and accepting challenge in order to ensure high quality education for all children.

327   Ofsted Annual Report on Schools 2013-14, p8 Back

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Prepared 27 January 2015