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Education News

Government's flagship academies are ‘failing to help weaker schools,’ says select committee report

Schools judged to be 'outstanding' can convert to academy status, but are expected to commit to supporting at least one weaker school in return

The Government’s flagship academies are failing in their duty to help struggling schools improve, according to a report out today.

MPs on the influential Commons select committee on education say they have received “overwhelming evidence” schools are only “paying lip-service” to their requirements.

After Education Secretary Michael Gove announced his plans for an expansion of the academies programme through allowing “outstanding” schools to convert to academy status, the Government said: “We will expect every school judged by Ofsted (the education standards watchdog) to be outstanding or good with outstanding features which converts into an academy to commit to supporting at least one weaker school in return for academy status.”

However,  today’s report says: “During this inquiry, we received overwhelming evidence that converter academies are not living up to this expectation and pulling their weight when it comes to other schools.

“One submission suggested that many only ‘paid lip service to this requirement’ and another argued that converter academies were ‘working in isolation’.”

The MPs say the Government should “urgently review” the way it monitors the expectation - including conducting surveys of the schools that had been promised the support of neighbouring academies.

In addition, the MPs want to see Ofsted given the power to inspect academy chains - which can be responsible for running dozens of academies. At present, while they can inspect local authorities - who may have lost control of their schools to academy status - they have no right to inspect academy chains.

Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told MPs: “We will be inspecting local authorities and we should inspect academy chains as well, if we identify under-performance.

“I have made that clear to the Secretary of State.  It is only fair and equitable that we do that.”

However, the committee was told the Government “would rather Ofsted focused on its other activities, which are extensive”. Inspecting academy chains would not “give us any information we do not have materially at the moment”.

A spokesman for the Department for Education added: “Hundreds of schools are now collaborating on a scale never witnessed before - brilliant heads and teachers are working together ... raising standards for their pupils.

Kevin Brennan, Labour’s schools spokesman, said the report was a “damning indictment of David Cameron’s schools policy” which was driving competition between schools instead of partnerships.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove has overruled a suggestion that he should reign in his programme for forcing under-performing schools to become academies. Civil servants planning budget cuts suggested ministers should consider value for money before taking decisions.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Ministers are clear we will not stand by when a school is failing its pupils and that the strong support of a proven sponsor is the best way to see rapid and sustainable improvements.”