County councillors share concerns over academy plans

Kathryn Field, Lib Dem East Sussex county councillor for Battle and Crowhurst (photo submitted). SUS-160903-152629001
Kathryn Field, Lib Dem East Sussex county councillor for Battle and Crowhurst (photo submitted). SUS-160903-152629001

County councillors have shared their concerns over government plans to convert all schools to academies.

On Thursday (March 17) Nicky Morgan MP, secretary of state for education launched a white paper setting out proposals she said would “transform England’s schools”.

The proposals included the need for all school to become academies by 2020 or have official plans to do so by 2022.

At a full meeting of East Sussex County Council today (Tuesday March 22), Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst), deputy leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “The whole issue of academies is very concerning, politically and logistically, especially with children in the smaller schools.”

Councillor Field explained difficulties were already being seen when it came to attracting headteachers and academy sponsors in the smaller schools.

Schools which convert to academy status are essentially removed from the control of local authorities such as East Sussex County Council, receiving their funding directly from the government.

The move was heavily criticised by Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who accused the government of having an “ultimate agenda” of seeing schools run for profit.

Mr Courteney said parents would be “outraged” at plans to “undo over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke”. He added the “drive towards total academisation” would do nothing to fix problems faced by schools such as teacher recruitment shortages, “a chronic lack of funding”, a lack of school places and “workload going through the roof”.

Alan Shuttleworth (LDem, Eastbourne - Langney) pointed out the potential inability to influence school performance in academies was already on the county council’s risk register.

Councillor Shuttleworth said the government’s changes could “heighten” those risks and added: “Smaller schools are already under threat. Are local federations going to be the solution for them? And some small schools are going to be under greater threat under this new academy regime.”

Nick Bennett (Con, Alfriston, East Hoathly and Hellingly), lead member for education and inclusion, special educational needs and disability, said he felt there was ‘laudable ambition’ in the white paper but added: “It does seem as if someone has opened up a box of abstract nouns and chucked them all over the place.”

Explaining that he personally believed in a “mixed economy of schools”, Councillor Bennett told his colleagues: “I do share your concerns. There are ambitions that are worthy but it’s always with these things what happens on an operational basis.”

Cllr Bennett said he did not know what would happen to school estates if any changes were made.

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