We have today announced that we will table a substantive Government amendment to the Education and Adoption Bill.
The Bill fulfils the Government’s manifesto commitment to raise standards across the country by speeding up the process by which failing maintained schools become sponsored academies, as well as introducing new measures to allow us properly to tackle coasting schools for the first time. The Bill seeks to improve the life chances of every child and ensure that all children have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential, wherever they live. These principles are at the heart of the Government’s education agenda.
As currently drafted, the Bill focuses on ensuring Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs)—acting on my behalf—have the powers they need to tackle failing and coasting maintained schools. The Bill does not apply to academies and free schools as they are governed by a different legal framework—they are held to account through a legally binding contract known as a funding agreement.
The vast majority of academies are performing well and the academy programme is central to our commitment to extending opportunity through delivering educational excellence in every part of the country. I am clear, however, that underperformance is unacceptable wherever it occurs—whether that is in a maintained school or an academy. We have already shown that we are tough on underperforming academies and that RSCs take robust action where needed—we have issued 122 formal notices to underperforming academies and free schools and moved to change the sponsor in 118 cases of particular concern. Our formal powers in relation to underperforming academies can, however, vary depending on the terms of an academy’s funding agreement. In a minority of cases, this can hinder our ability to intervene as swiftly as we would like. This is unacceptable and at the heart of this Bill lies our belief that a single day spent by a child in an underperforming schools is a day too many. We have also taken the views of some of our leading sponsors, who tell us they are frustrated that not being able to act swiftly in a few cases of high-profile failure creates a misleading picture of the work that is being done by academies across England to raise standards and transform young lives.
I am responding with an amendment to the Bill designed to ensure that RSCs always have the power to act whenever or wherever they encounter underperformance in our schools. I propose to amend the Bill so that when an academy or free school’s performance meets one of two triggers in legislation—an inadequate Ofsted judgement or performance that falls within the coasting definition—then their funding agreement will be read as having the latest provisions around failing and coasting schools. The amendment will not impinge on academy freedoms; on the contrary, it reinforces the central principle of the academy programme—trusting heads to run their schools through freedom and autonomy, but at the same time holding them to account for the results their pupils achieve. This amendment will not lead to any interference from central Government in the academies and free schools that are performing well.
In practice, the amendment will ensure that we can move any failing academy swiftly to a new sponsor. The amendment will also subject academies to the same coasting definition as maintained schools and where a coasting academy does not have a credible plan, further action will be taken by RSCs. This could ultimately include terminating the funding agreement and bringing in a new sponsor if necessary.
The amendment will create a more consistent framework for tackling underperformance across all types of schools and stands as another example of our determination to create a world class education system. The amendment will be tabled this week and first debated when the Bill returns to the House of Lords for Report Stage (currently scheduled to take place on 16 December 2015).