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Apr 13, 2016

Today’s debate on forced academies in the Commons

Here at Communitas, we have read a lot of opinions about the education White Paper, including compulsory academy status by 2020/2022. The Commons will debate this paper for the first time today, in response to a request from the Labour Party and cross-party opposition to 17,000 schools being forced to change their status to become academies. 

Here’s a quick roundup of the arguments for and against the academisation proposal.

Arguments for academy status

Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan MP, announced her future vision for the English education system in a White Paper called ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’ this March 2016. It argues: 

  • All primary and secondary schools in England must become an academy school directly funded by the Department for Education and independent of local authority control by 2020. By this time, each school is expected to have its own funding arrangements set out in an Academy Funding Agreement.
  • Academy status is now mature enough to be enforced at every state-funded school across the country by 2020 - it has now been proven to deliver better results by driving up standards.
  • By taking away local authorities' current responsibilities for maintaining schools over the next six years, the Government is enabling them to focus on championing pupils and parents. 
  • Any school in England recognised as failing will have to become a ‘sponsored academy’.
  • Academy status will empower more talented teachers to become great leaders in English schools because the autonomy and accountability it provides better positions educators to succeed by providing them with more effective leadership structure. 
  • It will improve outcomes for pupils across the board and it is believed that when all schools become academies, schools will only need external intervention for underperformance in exceptional circumstances.
  • If schools do not start transitioning into academies by 2020, the Government has said that it will ensure that those schools are removed from local authority control by 2022 (if the legislation is passed). 

Arguments against 

Those opposed to the White Paper have argued that it is negative to take local authority powers away from those who are managing schools well. The key arguments against include:

  • In January 2015, following an 18-month enquiry into academies and free schools, the House of Commons Education Committee concluded that: “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school”. In relation to primary schools, the Committee said: “We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools.”
  • David Blunkett, former education secretary, who developed the academy legislation under the Labour Government, argues that academies were only set up to improve underperforming schools and that schools value it as an option.  
  • Debbie Barnes, chair of the ADCS’s educational achievement policy committee, says the “academisation” of all schools could disrupt efforts to safeguard children by local authorities.
  • Plans to turn every school into an academy will take away the role of parent governors. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told the Daily Telegraph that: "Voices of parents, governors and the local community are being silenced by a Government that does not believe in proper democratic accountability in our schools”.
  • It is felt that the £66,000 needed to turn each school into a academy trust is not a good use of public funds, according to evidence from the BBC.
  • Roy Perry, representing the Local Government Association, has warned: "Forcing schools to become academies strips parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice."


Media spotlight   

Speaking on Newsnight, John Mannix, CEO of Plymouth CAST, argued in favour of academisation whilst remaining cautious about whether it will work for all schools. “Academy status is about new possibilities, about flexibility, about creativity”, he argued. He continued: “It can help schools retain what was good about the old system whilst having the power to make changes that will benefit a school”.

Whilst, Fiona Millar, former Labour Party candidate and journalist, has written a piece in The Guardian, arguing that academisation will simply create schools like supermarket chains. Millar argues: “It means loss of independent legal status for all schools, the end of school governance as we know it, and multi-academy trusts able to top-slice millions from the budgets of schools that will be no different from branches of a supermarket.'

Birmingham City Council, the country’s largest council, has already voted to reject the Government’s academy plans. Cllr John Clancy, council leader, has said: “The biggest impact of this entire ideologically-driven approach is going to happen in this city of Birmingham –where 300 schools will leave the family of the city council and will be taken away from local communities.”

Further reading

If you want to stay in touch with the debate on Twitter search #academy #academies.

We also recommend following Laura McInerney, Editor, Schools Week, on Twitter handle @miss_mcinerney and through her blog. Laura not anti academisation per se but her views on the need for more systems, assurances around accountability and transparency make interesting reading. Laura has also written a piece for The Guardian on how the academies plan doesn’t address schools’ real problems.

If you would like to learn more about us and our work with schools, education-based charities and edu product and service providers - give Communitas a call on 01273 669 919 or email me on

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