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Calls for under-performing academies in Suffolk to return to local authority control

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Calls have been made by education champions in Suffolk to bring poorly performing academies back under council control.

Academies, which are run by trusts either locally or nationally, are funded from central government rather than the local authority, and have greater freedom over the curriculum, finances and staff pay.

Data published for Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee in December revealed that 88.6 per cent of local authority-maintained schools in the county had an outstanding or good Ofsted rating, compared to 72.2 per cent of academies and free schools.

The data has prompted some education leaders to call for the Department for Education to reverse its stance on handing failing schools over to large, national, academy trusts, and bring them back in-house.

Graham White, national executive member of the National Education Union for Suffolk, said: “The government keeps repeating the mantra that academies raise standards. The evidence is that this is largely a false statement.

“The worst performing schools in Suffolk are academies. They were schools in some cases that had good or requires improvement as local authority schools, so have not improved as academies; they have, in fact, got even worse in Ofsted terms.

“The NEU calls on the Government to abandon its failed education policies and return schools to local authority control.”

He added: “An analysis of failing academies shows that national sponsored academy chains tend to perform worse than local MATs [multi-academy trusts].”

Mr White pointed to the Government’s policy of not allowing new local authority-maintained schools, coupled with passing poorly performing academies on to another trust, as reasons behind a lack of improvements.

Traditionally, many of the good and outstanding academies had already received one of the top two ratings by the education watchdog before converting to academies, according to the union.

The calls for under-performing academies to return to local authority control have been echoed by Suffolk County Council’s Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott.

He said: “It seems illogical that academisation is a one-way street, not least because the myth that the conversion of schools into academies invariably leads to higher standards has largely been debunked.

“That is why it is right for Labour to pledge to give local authorities added powers so that they can effectively scrutinise all schools in their area, allowing them to intervene appropriately and, when necessary, bring schools back in-house.

“Bringing struggling academy schools back under local authority control isn’t simply ideological – it’s pragmatic.

“Where there are serious concerns about a school, why wouldn’t you have local intervention? Why wouldn’t you give local authorities the power to help drive up educational standards?”

Suffolk’s data revealed that, of the local authority-maintained schools, there were five that were rated inadequate and 11 requiring improvement out of a total of 141 inspected. This compared to 16 inadequate academies or free schools, with a further 33 requiring improvement out of 176 rated.

Furthermore, 79 per cent of maintained schools, which were inspected in the last academic year, retained good or outstanding ratings while the equivalent for academies in the county was 65 per cent – meaning a third of academies had declined.

But the Department for Education has defended its policy.

“The facts speak for themselves, with 550,000 children studying in sponsored primary and secondary academies that are now rated good or outstanding, which typically replaced under-performing schools,” a spokesman said.

“The latest Key Stage 2 performance data showed that disadvantaged pupils studying in multi-academy trusts performed significantly better than the national average for disadvantaged pupils in writing and maths.

“We continue to monitor academy performance very closely and intervene where necessary. This includes working with partners, including academy trusts, to find a strong sponsor where a school is judged to be inadequate by Ofsted.

“We also continue to work with Suffolk County Council to ensure the best educational outcomes for all pupils.”