Comment: “Why I have concerns about the government’s ‘academisation’ plans”

Louise Goldsmith
Louise Goldsmith

Leader of West Sussex County Council Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) has today spoken of her concerns over the government’s ‘academisation’ plans for schools. She said:

As Leader of West Sussex County Council, I am extremely proud of all our local schools.

Giving children the best start in life is one of the council’s key priorities and key to that is a strong education that will enable future generations to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

You may have seen that the government has announced that all schools under local authority control across the country – including those in West Sussex – must become academies by 2022.

This concerns me for a number of reasons.

Currently we have a spread of schools – free schools, academies, local authority and private – across the county.

It is this choice in education that the County Council believes is right for children and for parents.

The ‘one size fits all’ academies approach that the government ministers are proposing does not seem to promote any extra benefits to pupils and parents in West Sussex.

You may have seen comments from me last week raising concerns about the forced nature of this initiative. We have 285 schools in the county of which 52 are academies currently and two free schools. That shows you the scale of change that we are charged with.

I believe that local schools should be run by local people and decisions on important issues should be taken by people who know and understand their local communities. We have a strong economy in West Sussex and also believe we are best placed locally to make links between our education and skills agenda and local businesses.

Some of my main concerns are that vulnerable children may find it more difficult to receive the support they need. Parents if they cannot get an issue resolved with a school will have to turn to a Regional Schools Commissioner. A role which, to most, is unknown, unproven and certainly not at a local level.

We have some excellent rural primary schools across the county much loved by pupils and parents. How these schools will fare in the academisation programme is a real concern to me.

It is absolutely right schools have the option to become academies and let’s be clear we have some great academies in the county. So of course we would support a school and its community to become an academy where it can be shown that it would be in the best interests of their pupils and community.

But we are worried that forcing the change on every school against a tight timescale goes against what many parents, governors and teachers want and could be disruptive to pupils.

I am also concerned that under these plans while we will still have legal responsibility to make sure all children have a school place, we will not have any powers to force academies or free schools to expand should they choose not to. This will make it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our school places planning role.

The County Council has a long history of providing education, and like other authorities, we have a small team of experts to help, advise and work with schools. So we want to continue to work with children, parents and schools to build on this, to help ensure standards continue to rise. We’re certainly not against change, just not change for change’s sake.

Since I raised our concerns a few days ago I have had so many messages of support from headteachers across the county, along with their governing bodies, and many other people in our county.

But today I am appealing to the parents and grandparents as I would really welcome your views about the government’s proposals. You can contact me by email at louise.goldsmith@westsussex.gov.uk

Let’s keep our schools local to their local communities!