Ministers have scrapped legislation that would have forced all schools in a local authority to convert to academy status if the council failed to meet a “minimum performance threshold”.
The decision to axe the Education for All Bill was slipped into a written ministerial statement published by education secretary Justine Greening this afternoon.
The move means government plans to force schools “in underperforming or unviable local authorities” to convert to academy status have been shelved indefinitely.
Upon announcing the new Technical and Further Education Bill, Ms Greening said it remained the government’s ambition for all schools to benefit from academy status.
“Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily,” she states. “No changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda.”
The news has been strongly welcomed by the Local Government Association, which described it as the “right decision”.
“Councils have been clear from the outset that the proposals within the Bill focused too heavily on structures, when our shared ambition is on improving education for all children,” Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said.
“In particular, both the forced academisation of schools in areas considered to be ‘unviable’, and the removal of the council role in school improvement, went against evidence that council-maintained schools perform more highly than academies and free schools in Ofsted inspections, and that conversion to academies did not in itself lead to better results.”
The Education for All bill had a troubled start as the then education secretary Nicky Morgan was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over her plans to turn every school into an academy less than two weeks before the legislation was announced.
Ms Morgan’s vision to convert every school in the country into an academy by 2022 was set out in her White Paper ‘Education, Excellence, Everywhere’.
But significant opposition to the plans from both Conservative MPs and Tory-led councils led to Ms Morgan to backtrack on the proposals.
The MP for Loughborough announced a watered down version, which would have seen all schools converted into academies where a local authority was deemed to be underperforming, or where funding state maintained schools was no longer financially viable for the council.
The Bill also contained statutory commitments to a national funding formula to ensure that money is allocated to schools “fairly and efficiently”. It is likely this commitment will be included in future legislation.