A decade since Michael Gove passed legislation allowing all schools to convert to academy status, a new Institute for Government report sets out a programme of reform to build a coherent all-academy system.
Published today, The Gove reforms a decade on: What worked, what didn't, what next?, is written by Sam Freedman, IfG senior fellow and a former adviser at the Department for Education.
In his IfG report, Freedman argues high-quality multi-academy trusts (MATs) can be the bedrock of the English education system. However, the unplanned evolution of the academies programme - deprioritised by successive prime ministers and resisted by Conservative-run local authorities - has left big gaps and misalignments in the education system.
As of November 2021, 45.4% of schools are academies (79.5% of which are secondaries and 38.3% primaries). The result is an inefficient dual system' where local authorities still have to support a diminishing number of schools with declining resources, a serious misalignments between powers and responsibilities, a lack of clarity over who is responsible for school improvement, and no single person or office able to properly hold MATs accountable for poor educational performance.
With an education white paper - which will be the first time since 2016 that the government will set out a clear vision for the future of the system - promised for Spring 2022, and the Department for Education freed from the all-consuming demands of the pandemic response, Freedman's IfG report says education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has a real opportunity to map a coherent process for moving to a fully academised system.
The report sets out three recommendations to achieve this aim:
- Create a system where responsibilities and powers are aligned by creating a proper statutory basis for academies, MATs and academy regulation, establishing a single arm's-length regulator for academy trusts, setting clear expectations for MATs, and giving local authorities a range of new powers including control over all schools admissions policy to ensure fairness.
- Move to a high-capacity all multi-academy trust system by setting a strong expectation that all schools will join a MAT, incentivising local authorities to support this, and provide significant capacity funding for high-performing and high-potential MATs.
- Increase bottom-up accountability by allowing individual schools to ask the regulator to move to a different MAT; and giving local authorities oversight powers.
Sam Freedman, IfG senior fellow and report author said:
There are enough high-quality MATs to believe they can be the bedrock of the English education system, supporting an ever improving and fairer system. But to make this happen the DfE needs to offer a coherent vision. At the moment the system is too complex, there are too many low-quality MATs, and too little capacity building. The role of local authorities is unclear and their responsibilities don't match these powers. All these things need to be fixed if we are going to move successfully over time to an all-academy system.
Notes for editors