Failing schools could turn into academies

Exterior of Hope Academy, Ashton Road, Newton-Le-Willows.
Exterior of Hope Academy, Ashton Road, Newton-Le-Willows.
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Failing schools in St Helens could be forced to become academies under controversial new plans drawn up by the Government.

Measures to force every school in England given an inadequate rating by Ofsted into academy conversion have been included in the Education and Adoption Bill.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan praised the new legislation, which will also contain new powers to speed up the conversion process and reduce campaigners’ ability to prevent the changes.

However, in St Helens the move already appears to have descended into near-farce as two of its nine secondary schools are already academies, yet one is deemed inadequate by Ofsted and the other is in special measures.

Three St Helens secondaries - Hope Academy, De La Salle and Lansbury special school - are in special measures.

St Helens Council cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, Coun Jeanette Banks, said: “The St Helens LEA works closely with all of its schools, including academies.

“Two of the nine secondary schools are academies. One was judged to require improvement, the other is in special measures. However, recent Ofsted monitoring visits have shown that both are making good progress.

“Finally, the structural change suggested by the bill will not in itself result in accelerated improvements in schools. It is the quality of teaching, learning, leadership and management that remain at the core of effective school improvement.”

The plans have also run into heavy criticism from teaching unions, who have also said simply turning schools into academies will not improve standards and warned of what the National Union of Teachers (NUT) called “a crude attack on state comprehensive education”.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “It is clear the Government is determined to continue with its obsessive focus on structural change, despite clear evidence that this does not raise standards.

The threatening mood music around this legislation of sacking head teachers will do nothing to raise standards as it will simply fuel the recruitment and retention crisis.

“But perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the bill is the provision which appears to be a direct attack on the fundamental right of parents to have a say in the type of education they want for their child.

“Abusing the legislative process to seek to gag critics and stifle opposition is a chilling theme running through far too many of this Government’s legislative plans and we all should be concerned when governments abuse their power to attack fundamental rights and freedoms.”

However, the Department for Education (DfE) has robustly defended its plans despite the criticism.

Education secretary Ms Morgan said: “Today’s landmark Bill will allow the best education experts to intervene in poor schools from the first day we spot failure.

“It will sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children. At the heart of our commitment to delivering real social justice is our belief that every pupil deserves an excellent education and that no parent should have to be content with their child spending a single day in a failing school.”