North Yorkshire school leaders’ question the benefits of academies

Classroom file pic.

School leaders and governors have raised numerous concerns over the government’s proposal to transfer the running of all schools from councils to academies, saying there is still a lack of clarity, and evidence, about the benefits of joining a trust.

A report to a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive on Tuesday states talks with school leaders this month had revealed many of the county’s 230 schools that are maintained by the authority do not wish to become academies.

However, following the government outlining its plan for a fully academised education system in a White Paper earlier this year, the report says school leaders were in general agreement that the council should help coordinate the transfer to avoid unnecessary isolation of individual schools.

Outlining the case for the end of the local authority maintained schools system, the government has said strong multi-academy trusts transform outcomes for pupils and are more financially secure.

Since the Department for Education published its ambition for a single trust-led system to be in place by 2030, a range of potential issues have been highlighted.

Earlier this week, the Bishop of Durham said the academisation of all schools “is not the simple answer” to an improved education system. He stated it also would require local leadership and governance, such as that provided by diocesan boards.

Following concerns many schools lack the ambition to form or join trusts in their areas, it has been reported the government has no plans to force all schools to become academies.

Nevertheless, education officers are recommending the authority’s executive approves developing a coordinated strategy towards full academisation.

The meeting will hear at a series of workshops with school leaders and governors this month, education officers were told many of the 15 secondary, 201 primary, 11 special and pupil referral units and three nursery schools are concerned about losing their identity, their ethos and their independence.

The report states while some school leaders remain unconvinced that academisation will benefit their pupils, they are worried that financial viability may prevent some schools conversion to academies, especially due to rising costs and the impact on small school budgets.

School leaders have also raised concerns that some schools could be left behind if trusts cherry pick the most financially viable schools.

To avert such a situation, the council and Department for Education have held exploratory discussions about a North Yorkshire-wide approach.

The report concludes: “It is clear that many local authority maintained schools attending the sessions would choose to remain as maintained if this were possible.

“However, given the direction towards a fully academised system, they were in general agreement that the local authority should facilitate a coordinated approach so that an area-based view can be taken and schools
are supported to make joined up, local decisions alongside other schools in their area, thus avoiding unnecessary isolation of individual schools.”