A couple of weeks ago the DfE submitted to parliament the Annual Report on Academies for 2011-12, as required under the 2011 Education Act. The document can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/206382/Academies_Annual_Report_2011-12.pdf
During the year from August 2011 to July 2012 there were 1,151 funding agreements signed, meaning at the latter date there were 1,952 open academies, of which 365 were of the sponsored type created originally by the Labour Government, and 1,587 were of the converter variety invented by the present Secretary of State. By May 2013, the total number of open academies had increased to 2,924. And as at 31 July 2012, 42% of state funded mainstream secondary schools and 3% of state-funded mainstream primary schools were academies, a figure that is no higher although nearly a third of local authorities still had no primary academies within their boundaries.
According to the Annual Report, academies are sponsored by many diverse bodies, so that at the end of the 2011/12 academic year there were 471 different approved academy sponsors. Of these, 161 were academy converters sponsoring other academies; 40 sponsors came from the business sector; 82 from the charitable sector; 40 from dioceses; 65 from the further education sector; 34 from the university sector; 13 were grammar schools, of which 10 are now themselves academies; 13 were independent schools; two were special schools, and 21 were sponsors from other public bodies, including local authorities.
These figures show that the Conservative led coalition is as keen, if not more so than the previous Labour government, at encouraging the creeping ‘nationalisation’ of the school system in England under the guise of providing freedom to individual schools and their sponsors. Local democratic oversight, it was rarely control, is gradually being eradicated from the day to day management of the nation’s schools to be replaced by unelected officials whose political masters are sometimes happy to play fast and loose with planning rules to see their schemes succeed.
In a technical document on attainment between academies and other types of school published in association with the annual report* the DfE identifies the improvement academies have brought to the education scene, although there is no evidence at all as to whether this has been achieved with more or less resources that at other schools.
I hope that local authorities will put together mechanisms for comparing the progress of the academies in their locality against those schools that have not yet been converted or been created as an academy. Not only can such comparison raise questions about what is working, and what is not creating results locally, but it can help develop a local oversight of the whole education system and its Value for Public Money that a fractured system might obfuscate in an unhelpful manner. Even though the national budget for schools is ring-fenced that doesn’t mean it should be squandered in a wasteful manner setting up new schools where they aren’t needed. And just as we have seen responsibility for public health returned to local authorities, there is always the possibility that a future government will return control of schools to local authorities, especially if there are hard budget decisions to make once the ring-fence is finally removed.