“The National Audit Office has issued a report questioning the Department for Education’s ability to continue converting large numbers of maintained schools to academies.
The watchdog said that the DfE was “taking longer than intended to convert a sizeable proportion of the underperforming schools it believes will benefit most from academy status”.
At January 2018 the Department had converted 6,996 maintained schools to academies. The process has cost it an estimated £745m since 2010-11, of which £81m was spent in 2016-17.
The NAO report – Converting maintained schools to academies – highlighted how a much higher proportion of secondary schools than primary schools were academies. Some 72% of secondary schools, including free schools, were academies compared with 27% of primary schools.
“This leaves local authorities with responsibility for most primary schools and specialist providers, but few secondary schools. In areas where a high proportion of secondary schools are academies, it is more difficult for local authorities to take an integrated, whole-system approach to the education of children in their area,” the NAO warned.
The watchdog also found significant geographical variation in the proportion of schools that were now academies. This varied across England, from 93% in Bromley to 6% in Lancashire, Lewisham and North Tyneside. There were 23 local authorities (15%) that had 150 or more maintained schools, while 55 local authorities (37%) had fewer than 50 maintained schools, it said.
The report also found that:
Almost two-thirds of schools rated as inadequate by Ofsted and directed to convert, with the support of a sponsor, took longer than the nine months the DfE says it should take to open as academies. The NAO estimated that, at January 2018, there were 37,000 children in maintained schools that Ofsted had rated as inadequate more than nine months before but that had not yet opened as academies.
The Department had found it difficult to find sponsors for some of the most challenged schools. “In particular, small, sometimes remote, primary schools can find it challenging to attract local sponsors and integrate into multi-academy trusts.” There were 242 sponsored academies that were more than 50 miles from their sponsor. …”