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Academies as groups of schools working together… sounds like an LA?

Reading about the next stage of academisation of English schools today sort of made me pull a bit of a grimace. I got a little bit cross and then facepalmed, because there just doesn’t seem anything new about the concepts being trundled out as though they are shiny new toy.

Schools working together with the sole purpose of education: that’s what LAs do/did. They had schools improvement officers. They had resources to support children with SEN. They had expertise and were there for the sole purpose of improving education within their local remit. The article argues that the ‘single legal entities’ set up with the aim of improving education are not yet evenly distributed throughout England. But they were. Each Local Authority held local schools to account within their geographical remit and was one legal entity responsible for schools.

While the article does concede that the academy structure does not necessarily the only way for these ‘single legal entities’ to emerge, it does suggest that 20 years ago, such a thing was unheard of. Here I get confused and befuddled: THE LOCAL AUTHORITY! The writer also notes that there is little evidence that standards in academies are improving more quickly than other settings, so quite what the benefit of an academy chain over a Local Authority is, I don’t really know.

The writer argues that there are conflicts of interests linked to the role of the Local Authority as political and administrative due to them being employer, improver and regulator of local schools. I struggle to understand how this differs within academy chains. Academy chains are not necessarily accountable to their communities; governance structures are much more varied and lack the consistency of those required within Local Authorities where there are prescribed roles for the board of governors at local level. Academy chains often have different structures which may be based remotely from the school they oversee.

I am troubled by the notion that academies offer something new and inherently good; only yesterday was news released that a significant number of academy chains have been asked to justify salaries of their senior leaders. There are some great academy chains and there are some poor, as with Local Authorities but the fractured and inconsistent nature of educational provision in England is inescapable and does not appear to be improving through the ‘market’. I don’t know the solution per say, but I think we, as education professionals need to take stock and think carefully what we envisage for our children’s education in the future before we really are too far down an inescapable rabbit-hole.