The British government’s plan to force all schools to become academies has been changed despite officials previously refusing to back down on the issue. Now, schools with “good” and “outstanding” ratings will not have to undergo forced academization.
These concessions are designed to meet the demands of Tories who disagree with the plan’s requirement that high-performing schools convert to academies, though opposition to the controversial plan came from all angles and both parties.
Teachers and other education professionals seemed to especially criticize the plan, with 95% of the delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers conference agreeing with a motion that “no schools should be forced to become an academy.” Teaching unions have stated that they are “pleased” with this new, and less extreme, development.
According to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, the government is listening to its people by repealing the plan. She also said:
We absolutely support those strong local authorities where schools are good and outstanding– they can make the choice to convert.
I hope that they will, because we are convinced that becoming academies does lift standards but they can do the right thing for them and I think that reflects the concerns and the conversations that we have had.
The program would have required all schools to convert to academies, or have plans to do so, by 2022, according to Hannah Richardson of BBC News. Academies are state-funded but independently run by not-for-profit businesses known as academy trusts, which are often part of a chain, reports BBC News. The plan was announced in the Budget and the details were published later in a white paper.
However, Rachael Pells of the Independent reports that schools will still be required to convert to academies in two cases: when it’s clear that the local authority can no longer support its schools because too many have already become academies, and where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum threshold of educational performance.
In a concession to other concerns, small rural schools will be protected from closure with extra financial support, and any closure thereof would have to be approved by both the local authority and the regional schools commissioner.
Richard Adams of the Guardian quoted Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell, who said that it was a “humiliating climbdown” for Nicky Morgan and David Cameron.
In the past month, 227 schools have applied to convert to academies, with 104 academy orders issued to underperforming schools. This rate is the highest since the beginning of the program and the government expects it to increase.
The Local Government Association recently found that 81% of council-maintained schools are rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, compared to 73% of academies and 79% of free schools.
A spokesperson for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said:
Perhaps we should be thankful to the Government for exposing the weaknesses in its academies program and its inability to substantiate its claim that academies perform better than local authority maintained schools.