Over the past few decades, local authority responsibilities have significantly changed as councils no longer have the responsibility of maintaining all schools in their area. Local authorities do, of course, retain a key role in the education field, in particular, statutory duties in respect of special educational needs and disabilities, pupil place planning, admissions, and transport from home to school.
It is now proposed that local authorities will be given the power to apply to the Secretary of State for academy orders in respect of schools in their area. The new academisation powers will drive the government’s aim for schools to become part of a strong multi-academy trust.
What will change?
From September 2023, it is proposed that local authorities will be given the power to make an application to the Secretary of State for an academy order in respect of maintained schools in their area. Multiple schools may be named in the application, although the Regional Director does not have to approve the conversion of all schools in the application.
To make the request, the local authority will have to comply with the following process:
- Consult the governing bodies and foundations of any schools included in the local authority’s plan
- Obtain the consent of the trustees or persons who appoint foundation governors prior to the application
- Make the application to the Regional Director for all schools in the plan to receive an academy order
The government expects local authorities, schools, and Regional Directors to hold open discussions around multi-academy trust expansion, and for local authorities to seek a school’s input on the most appropriate trust for each school.
However, the Regional Director, on behalf of the Secretary of State, will make the final decision, with the key focus on achieving the best outcomes for pupils.
What if a school does not want to convert?
Given that this is a power for the local authority, situations may arise where a school is named in the local authority’s plan, despite the school not wanting to convert to academy status. Local authorities will be expected to develop plans for schools which they maintain with the schools’ preferences in mind, particularly in respect of any preference of trust.
However, there may be situations where agreement cannot be reached between a school and the local authority. Ultimately, if the local authority decides that it is no longer prepared to maintain the school, it may name the school in its plan and place the decision in the hands of the Regional Director.
Guidance will be issued by the Department for Education setting out how and when the local authority’s power should be used. Schools which have not converted to academy status may want to consider entering into discussions with other schools in their area in order to begin seeking out the most appropriate fit for their school.
Clearly, with the government’s drive to have all schools in a strong multi-academy trust by 2030, and the local authority’s new power to seek academy orders for any maintained school in its area, schools may be best placed to begin open conversations at an early stage.