County council opposes plan to convert all schools to academies

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The Leader of West Sussex County Council has called on the government to rethink its plans to turn all schools into academies.

Last month, a white paper called ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ outlined plans for all state schools to become academies by 2020.

While supporting the government’s “drive to improve education standards”, council leader Louise Goldsmith said: “However, I have reservations that the ‘one size fits all’ academies approach that ministers are proposing does not seem to promote any benefits to pupils and parents in West Sussex.”

In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan, Mrs Goldsmith said the council felt the academies approach would mean there was “not a strong enough voice for the parent and child”.

She also warned the move would make it harder for councils to fulfil statutory duties to provide enough school places for children in West Sussex and to ensure the most vulnerable youngsters in the county got the best start in life.

Her response to the white paper, which has been sent to all West Sussex headteachers, said: “We have very specific concerns about how vulnerable children will fare under the proposals – a statutory responsibility that will rightly remain with the council but with very few powers to help us to fulfil that duty.”

The council said it was not against academies and would support any school to promote its conversion where it could be shown it would benefit the children.

At a full council meeting on Friday, councillors from all political sides raised serious concerns about the government’s proposals.

In her letter to the education secretary, Mrs Goldsmith wrote: “I was struck by the force of feeling within the chamber. Councillors of all political persuasions were united in their concerns about a lack of democratic accountability inherent within the proposals as they stand.

“Other concerns were raised about the council’s ability to fulfil current and residual statutory responsibilities, financial efficiency and the possibility of a very bureaucratic system being imposed.

“Above all else there was a sense that good outcomes for children and young people were not driving the proposed reforms – especially for the most vulnerable children. Giving children the best start in life is one of West Sussex County Council’s key priorities.”

With 82 per cent of county schools currently rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, Mrs Goldsmith argued there was no need to force change to improve standards and there was no evidence to suggest having all schools run by Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) would deliver better results.

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