On the 1st March 2017, North Somerset Council ceased to control any secondary schools.
Every child over the age of 11 in North Somerset now attends a school that has opted out of the Local Education Authority, and all the annoying red tape that came with their financial, educational and procedural oversight.
Already many Primaries are joining the secondary’s in MATs (Multi Academy Trusts) and as the LEA funding is cut even further, plans are in place for this to continue exponentially during the course of this academic year.
Of course, for many schools there will be no noticeable difference in their immediate future as a cog in the MAT wheel, but long term there is no way of telling what will happen. MATs have almost no transparency or oversight, and even the Government has admitted that they are relying on whistleblowers to let the know when there is a problem. And the problems can be huge: just google Perry Beaches, Priory Academies or E-Act to find financial scandals where £millions that should have been spent on educating children went into CEO’s pockets. The same google searches will show how MATs can take good schools and turn them into failing schools within just a couple of school years.
In fact, the government’s own research states that they “have significant concerns about the performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts”. It goes on to say “there is no robust evidence to support the expansion of MATs” and “there is a long way to go before ministers can demonstrate that public money given to academies is being used effectively”. Yet the Government is pressing ahead with plans to “encourage” all schools to become academies within MATs.
Statistically, schools in MATs actually perform worse than local authority maintained schools. 54% MATs are underperforming at KS4 exams and 50% are underperforming at KS2 SATs. Yet 91% of Local Authority Maintained schools are rated as Good or Outstanding by OFSTED. So why are we rushing headlong into unchartered territory? No other country in the world has deregulated education in this way.
Sir Michael Wishaw said that poorly performing MATs will eventually fail and be taken over by their better neighbours. Yet Local Authorities are not allowed to take schools on or set up their own MATs so we are condemning a whole generation of children – OUR children - to be the guinea pigs in the government's ideological experiment. How many of our children will have to spend their school years in poorly managed, failing schools because the LEA cannot help them? What will happen to the children in small schools, rural schools, or dilapidated schools that no MAT wants to take on? Where will our poorer children go when every school locally is in a MAT that insists on a £600 parental contribution?
These are not hypothetical questions. This is happening now, here, in England! North Somerset is at the vanguard of the changes. At a time of unprecedented financial pressure on schools (98% are set to lose money in the next academic year, just as their costs have gone up due to new government regulations) we need to ask ourselves what is the future for education in England? And what are we going to do about it? Every parent, grandparent, teacher, worker and business should care about how we educate our children. They will be our future doctors, lawyers, carers and leaders. How they learn about the world will shape the world we all have to live in!