Education and Adoption Bill

Local Government Association (Revised) (EAB 24)

1. About the Local Government Association

1.1 The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

1.2 We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems.

2. Summary

2.1 Councils have a good track record on school improvement and a statutory duty to promote high educational standards in their areas. Local government should be given the powers it needs to achieve such standards for local schools.

2.2 We support amendments which remove the bureaucratic barriers currently preventing councils from intervening quickly and decisively in underperforming schools. Following a significant period of structural reform, the focus of school improvement policy should be on standards, not structures.

2.3 Councils should be recognised as an essential part of the infrastructure to drive up standards, and should be given powers to sponsor academies. In addition, council-maintained schools should be able to sponsor failing schools without first having to become academies themselves.

2.4 Academy chains may not have the capacity to turn around large numbers of additional schools quickly. The Government’s statistics show only 15 per cent of the 20 largest chains are performing above the national average as compared to 44 per cent of councils. Before the Bill’s provisions are enacted, we would like to see an independent assessment by the Government of the capacity of sponsors to take on new schools and their performance.

2.5 The Bill will allow large numbers of maintained schools to be converted to sponsor academies. We have concerns about the capacity of the existing Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to take on large numbers of additional schools, when some existing academies face significant performance challenges.

3. The need for a focus on standards

3.1 The Bill will place a duty on the Secretary of State to convert failing schools to academy status. This enshrines in statute the Government’s belief that academy conversion is the best way to improve a failing school. However, research by Watchsted for the LGA shows that:

o 75 per cent of maintained schools inspected on the ‘tougher’ Ofsted framework introduced in September 2012 are good or outstanding, compared to 69 per cent of academies.

o When inspected following conversion, 56 per cent of sponsored academies improved their grade, 33 per cent stayed at the same grade and 11 per cent actually got a lower grade than their predecessor maintained school.

o 62 per cent of primary academies improved their Ofsted grade following conversion, compared to 37 per cent of secondary academies showing improvement.

4. Councils as school sponsors

4.1 Councils have a good track record of raising education standards. LGA-commissioned research, published by NFER, shows that, on average, pupils attending maintained schools achieved the same high standard of GCSE results in 2014 as those attending academies. [1] Ofsted rates 82 per cent of council-maintained schools as good or outstanding. Furthermore, since the new tougher Ofsted test was introduced in September 2012, 75 per cent of maintained schools have gained good or outstanding judgements, compared to 69 per cent of academies.

4.2 Given the strength of achievement in the council-maintained schools, we would like to see the Bill amended to allow councils to sponsor struggling schools to become academies. We would also wish to see high-performing maintained schools allowed to sponsor struggling schools, without having to convert to academy status.

5. Greater freedom for councils to intervene

5.1 The LGA supports amendments which remove the bureaucratic barriers currently preventing councils from intervening decisively in underperforming schools. We welcome the removal in the Bill of some of the rights of appeal that have hampered councils from acting quickly when a council-maintained school is found to be Inadequate by Ofsted.

5.2 However, councils should not have to apply to the Secretary of State for Education to replace the governing body of a council-maintained school placed in Special Measures by Ofsted. The Bill strengthens central government power to intervene in the establishment of Interim Executive Boards (IEBs) and we are concerned that this will delay to the process of turning around failing council-maintained schools.

5.3 Councils should have the same intervention powers in each of the schools that educate children in their areas, including oversight of spending. This should include powers to intervene in academies and free schools causing concern. Without this, the current two-tier accountability will continue to allow some schools to escape local scrutiny of their educational and financial performance.

6. Capacity of academy chains to take on failing schools

6.1 We are concerned about the capacity of the pool of current and potential academy sponsors to take on large numbers of additional schools. Councils are also reporting difficulty in finding sponsors for new schools or schools found inadequate by Ofsted. The DfE itself has already halted the expansion of some of the largest academy chains in response to concerns that rapid expansion has affected standards and Ofsted has issued critical reports on the performance of some chains. Recent DfE figures show that only 3 out of the 20 largest chains perform above the national average on an ‘added value’ measure, compared to 44 out of 100 councils.

6.2 Before the Bill’s provisions are enacted, the Government should conduct an independent assessment of the capacity and performance of sponsors and councils. When an academy fails or a chain is found to be underperforming, councils should step in as sponsors to turn schools around.

7. Regional Schools Commissioners

7.1 RSCs will exercise the new powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill. They are currently responsible for more than 4,000 academies, 141 of which are inadequate and 612 Requiring Improvement. This represents 19 per cent of all academies. The eight RSCs are unlikely to have the capacity or local knowledge to deal with significantly increased numbers of additional underperforming schools.

7.2 With responsibility for a large, remote and diverse range of schools, RSCs lack local knowledge and the capacity to take on all the problems associated with failing academies. A number of councils have reported receiving requests from RSCs requiring local authority support and parents are reportedly confused about the RSC’s different regional boundaries.

7.3 Furthermore, significant powers relating to children’s education are being given to an unelected body, with parents and communities unable to hold it to account at the ballot box.

7.4 Councils are best placed to oversee school effectiveness and take immediate action where required. With RSCs strictly limited to overseeing academic standards, the early warning signs of failing, such as safeguarding concerns or financial problems, risk being overlooked. It is not acceptable that councils have to wait for poor exam results or an Ofsted inspection to trigger intervention. 

July 2015

[1] NFER, Analysis of academy school performance in GCSEs 2014, July 2015. Available at:



Prepared 16th July 2015