Yarborough School in Lincoln recently gained academy status to become Lincoln Castle Academy
All Lincolnshire schools will be urged to become academies and join a single charitable Trust if Lincolnshire County Council’s executive accepts a committee’s recommendations.
County councillors met for an extraordinary meeting of the Children and Young Persons Scrutiny Committee on July 26 to debate what the authority’s policy on academies should be.
Academies are schools that have opted out of local authority control. They are funded by central government and sponsors, and have a large amount of freedom over how the school is run, from curriculum to finance.
A school’s governors are the only people with the power to turn it into an academy.
Four options were laid out in a report for the committee to consider. These were:
- Do nothing and continue with the current position;
- The local authority to encourage all schools to convert to academy status through a variety of existing sponsors;
- The Local Authority to encourage all schools to join a single trust through CfBT (a school improvement charity);
- Encourage schools to stay in the maintained sector with the local authority.
A representative of CfBT, which already has a contract with the County Council to provide school improvement services until 2017, was at the committee meeting.
Some councillors questioned if this was appropriate as Andy Breckon, the CfBT officer present, was there to give independent expertise as well as answer questions about the Trust.
Councillor Stephen Williams, Chairman of the committee, insisted that there was no conflict of interest.
However, he agreed to ask Breckon to leave once he had answered questions so he was not in the chamber for the debate and vote.
Concerns were also raised over the report seemingly implying that option 3, involving CfBT, is the only real option.
Councillor Nev Jackson said that as the paper only presents one Trust as an option: “…it appears — and I stress appears — we have a preferential bidder.”
Councillor Robert Parker raised the point that in the report’s evaluation of the options, the pros compared to cons seemed intentionally weighted towards option 3.
Debbie Barnes, Assistant Director of Lincolnshire County Council’s Children’s Services, insisted the report doesn’t favour any one organisation.
According to the report, the County Council “would not express any preference between CfBT and any other provider who had confirmed a similar commitment and had evidenced its ability to deliver.”
Other councillors spoke out against the government’s academies policy.
Councillor Chris Underwood-Frost, who is a governor at two Lincolnshire schools, one an academy and the other not, said given what he knows now he “would not touch academies with a barge pole”.
He said governors lose all power when a school becomes an academy.
Councillor John Marriott said: “As a result of the changes from the coalition, we now look like having all our best schools […] enticed to opt-out, although there’s no extra money.
“There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but they think there is.”
Other concerns were aired about the level of consultation that had taken place. Some councillors thought it would be important to consult communities to see what they want to happen to local schools.
Lincolnshire County Council’s executive will meet in September to consider the recommendations.