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Government backs down on controversial plans to turn all schools into academies

Following a backlash by teachers, governing bodies and parents across England, the government has abandoned its plans to turn all schools into academies.

A highly controversial initiative, earlier this year it was announced that local authority schools were required to convert to an academy by 2020, or at least be able to demonstrate that they were committed to doing so by 2022. Schools that did not comply were to be forced to do so by the government.

Charitable companies limited by guarantee, academies are non-profit organisations. While the day-to-day running of these schools remains with the headteacher, ultimately they are overseen by academy trusts. Supporters believe that in releasing schools from local authority jurisdiction, they gain greater control and the freedom to innovate.

However, the plans sparked protests from teachers, as well as threats of resignation and industrial action from headteachers; with critics arguing that under the initiative, the government would be effectively privatising the education sector.

In response, in what has been labelled a “humiliating” climb-down, the government has now said these plans are simply an “aspiration”, and that they will no longer be forcing a “blanket conversion”.

What does this mean?

Despite the U-turn, the government is still a fan of the academy model, which sees local authority run schools become non-fee paying academies and receive funding directly from central government.

Certainly, it is only high-performing schools that now have the choice to convert or not, with the education secretary stating that:  “We absolutely support those strong local authorities where schools are good and outstanding they can make the choice to convert.”

The government is still subjecting less successful schools into forced academisation, with new legislation providing sweeping powers to the DfE, so that it can compel schools in underperforming local authorities to convert in a bid to raise standards.

According to the government, academies improve twice as fast as other state schools. However, evidence from the HMCI, the Education Select Committee, and the Sutton Trust dispute this, finding that academy status not only fails to result in higher attainment,  but that many chains of schools already under this model are failing disadvantaged pupils.

 What now for local authority schools?

Despite the recent U-turn, it is unclear what the future holds for the 17,000 schools across England still under local authority control. Certainly, for any school still facing a forced conversion, appointing the right legal support to ensure they are ready for the implications of becoming an academy is essential.

 At Linder Myers, our solicitors have acted for both academies and local authorities during the conversion process. This includes matters relating to:

  • Academy Conversion application to DfE
  • Property (Lease of School from LA)
  • Commercial Transfer Agreement
  • Creation of Academy Trust
  • Due diligence re:
    • Property
    • Contracts
    • Employees

Helping schools to manage the process effectively, we provide a personal, face to face, bespoke service that protects your interests at all times.

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