This week the Government published a White Paper that sets out proposals as to how education will be delivered in the future.
I suppose the main proposal is the requirement for all schools to convert to academy status by 2020. The vast majority of secondary schools have already taken the opportunity to benefit from the various inducements that have been offered and converted to academy status. The proposals announced this week will now require the remaining secondary schools and all primary schools to become academies. This will eliminate any involvement for local authorities in the way that education will be developed.
It would appear that local authorities will continue to co-ordinate school admissions through the various co-ordinated schemes published each year. What is not clear at the moment is what will happen to those pupils that are unable to secure a place at one of their preferred schools. At the present time the local authority will allocate a school based on the very simplistic basis of the nearest school where there are places available. If local authorities are removed from any responsibility for how education is delivered in schools, will the responsibility to provide places continue? It is almost unthinkable that this will not be the case.
At the present time it is the admission authority that is responsible for making arrangements for those parents that wish to exercise their statutory right of an appeal, although it is not uncommon for Academies to commission the local authority to deal with such appeals on their behalf. However, the proposal in the White Paper is for local authorities to become responsible for making arrangements for any appeals for Academies. It is not clear at this stage whether or not this will be paid for by the local authority or the academies but this will emerge later as the proposals go through the statutory process.
It is very likely that new statutory Codes will also be consulted and published to replace the existing Codes but this will mean that it will be some time before such proposals are implemented.
Another change that is being proposed is that the Education Funding Agency that currently investigates complaints into the statutory appeal process for Academies will in future be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman, the various regional offices have considerable experience in dealing with such complaints. I suppose the only reservation here is that the Local Government Ombudsman can only make recommendations about offering a second appeal if maladministration is found whereas the Education Funding Agency can require an Academy to hold a second appeal. Again it is not clear at this stage how Academies will respond to this proposed change.
I wrote recently that the outgoing School Adjudicator had expressed concern that the increasing number of Academies was resulting in the fragmentisation of the school admissions system. This in turn was making admission arrangements more complicated for parents to understand as each Academy adopted different admission criteria for their school. This was making it increasingly difficult for parents to be able to make reasoned decisions about the likely chances of a successful application with the increasingly complicated admission criteria being adopted by Academies.
The Government has said in the White Paper that it wants admission arrangements to be more straightforward and easy to understand and so it will indeed be interesting to see what detailed proposals it brings forward to try and make this happen.
In the past many governments have sought to simplify the admission arrangements and have failed dismally. It is with a considerable degree of optimism that the detailed proposals when announced will fulfil these ambitions but I regret to say that I will reserve judgement until such proposals are announced. It is with considerable regret that most governments put education at the top of their political agenda but fail to deliver their promises. Many attempts have been made to improve the education system for our children but there are too many vested interests that will frustrate the introduction of future changes. The simple fact is that if all schools were capable of delivering quality education then there would not be this annual scramble to secure places at those schools deemed to be delivering quality education. We can only hope that the proposed changes will indeed deliver their objective.