Critical LSE academies report needs correcting says pro-academy group

Janet Downs's picture

The LSE academies report contains ‘certain assumptions that cannot go unchallenged’, says Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association.   

Her objections are these:

Objection 1Academies aren’t ‘owned’ by trusts because they’re charities.  But academies are physical assets and academy trusts have ‘ownership’ of these.  The New Schools Network (NSN) makes this clear.  

Objection 2: It’s incorrect to say academies are in ‘chains’.  It may not be a ‘legal term’, but it’s readily understood to mean academy trusts.  Former education secretary Michael Gove referred to chains.  So does schools minister Nick Gibb

Objection 3:  This takes issue with the finding that academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs) have less freedom.  But Emma Knights, CEO of the National Governance Association made it clear: MAT trustees have control, not individual schools.  ‘To suggest otherwise is quite frankly displaying an ignorance of school legal structures.’  

Objection 4: Cruddas diverts attention from the report’s concern about academy trust decision making by describing school governors.  But governors of individual academies are subject to decisions made by academy trustees.  Cruddas downplays the report’s concern about how trustees are appointed. 

Objection 5: The report’s comparison of decision making by Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) and local authorities (LAs) regarding school intervention is incorrect.  Cruddas says ‘the statutory power of intervention’ in LAs is with the director of children’s services and not with councillors.   But councils must also have a lead member for children’s services chosen from elected councillors.  Both the director and the lead member have responsibility for ‘educational excellence’ which includes establishing local ‘schools forum’.  All school forum meetings are public unlike the meetings of RSC headteacher boards. 

Objection 6: It is incorrect to say LAs have no direct power to ensure sufficient school places locally’LAs can’t direct free schools to open.  Neither can they instruct an academy to expand

Cruddas says all free schools must have evidence of need for pupil places.  This implies free schools can only be established where extra capacity is needed.  But NSN cites other reasons: ‘to raise standards’ (a presumption with no guarantee) or ‘offer choice’ (even at the risk of threatening the viability of nearby schools). 

Objections 7 and 8:  Cruddas objects to the claim that non-adherence to the national curriculum and teachers’ pay and conditions has potential negative impacts.   She objects to the word ‘potential’ because it is ‘unevidenced’.  But ‘potential’ highlights a likelihood that something could happen in the future.  It’s rather difficult to find evidence for a future event.

Objection 9It’s ‘erroneous’ to say academy accounts don’t give a detailed account of how public money is spent. Cruddas has a point – academy accounts do detail expenditure. She says LA schools don’t have to publish accounts.  This is correct – but that’s because the accounts of LA schools are grouped within LA accounts.  Schools in MATs don’t have to publish individual accounts either.

Objection 10The assertion that there is a lack of reliable information about the way in which the academies policy is working is unevidenced.   Cruddas follows this with a question: ‘Which elements of academies policy do the authors believe are unreliable?’  This can be answered by highlighting reports about academies going back years: the Academies Commission, National Audit Office, Education Select Committee, Public Accounts Committee, NFER/Sutton Trust.  All these, and more, have highlighted ‘elements’ of academization which are not reliable in the sense that promises attached to academization can’t be depended upon. 

Cruddas ends by dismissing the report because it lacks ‘valid and reliable analysis’.  It appears she hasn’t noticed copious footnotes verifying what she claims is ‘unsubstantiated rhetoric’. 

Only one of the ten objections has any substance.   The rest are nit-picking pedantry focussing on semantics and split hairs. 

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