County council to lobby government over academy plans for Derbyshire schools

County Hall, Matlock.
County Hall, Matlock.

Derbyshire County Council is to lobby government over plans to turn all schools into academies.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the authority pledged to do everything they can to oppose the plans, warning that the new proposed compulsory academy programme could have a negative impact on the county’s schoolchildren, particularly in rural areas.

Councillor Jim Coyle, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “There’s absolutely no evidence that academies improve outcomes for children, so it mystifies me why the government insists on pressing ahead with this stance.

“There’s no appetite for it in Derbyshire and we will do all we can to support parents and schools opposing the move.”

Chancellor George Osborne announced during the budget last month a proposal to turn all schools into academies by 2022.

All schools in special measures or with serious weaknesses must, by law, be issued with an academy order and compelled to academise. But the latest proposal for compulsory academisation for all schools has prompted county councillors to act.

Councillor Coyle added: “It’s a step too far. Only a tiny proportion of Derbyshire schools have become academies voluntarily. This shows it’s not something people here want.

“Already Derbyshire parents are showing their opposition and have set up action groups to fight the move and we’ll do whatever we can to support these groups.

“Making it compulsory to become an academy is a massive step away from local accountability and a turn to centralisation. This isn’t in the best interests of children in Derbyshire or the county as a whole.

“We’re proud of Derbyshire schools and committed to fully supporting them to give children the education they deserve. This move is not in their best interests.”

Nationally, academies make up 22.4 per cent of schools – 14.5 per cent of primary schools and 61.4 per cent of secondaries.

In Derbyshire, the numbers are much smaller – 4.3 per cent of primaries and 44.4 per cent of secondary schools are academies.

Local authority schools control their own budgets and run their own affairs. But Derbyshire County Council plays a role in:

• Supporting and challenging schools to be the best they can be

• Championing all children and their families.

• Helping groups of Derbyshire schools work collaboratively to improve standards.

Academies are funded directly by central government and are run by trusts, some of which are national chains.

This, said Councillor Coyle, reduces local accountability.

“This proposal is not in the best interests of pupils or the community,” said Councillor Coyle.

“It removes accountability and flies in the face of the localism agenda championed by the government.”

Rural schools would be worst hit if compulsory academisation is introduced said Councillor Coyle, as the new funding formula for schools would make small schools unviable.

“Nobody will want to take on a small rural school, it just wouldn’t be worth it,” he explained.

“We help support all our schools and have the best interests of communities at heart,” said Councillor Coyle. “We’ll do all we can to protect them.”

The council plans to fight the government’s proposals by:

• Lobbying government

• Supporting parent groups working to oppose academies

• Supporting schools to resist academisation if they’re good or outstanding.