Tower Hamlets Council has agreed a motion calling on the government to restore the role of local councils in schools. The motion was proposed during a debate about Stepney Green Maths, Computing & Science College; an academy school run by The Tower Trust.
The role of local authorities in schooling matters has greatly reduced over recent years, with the expansion of the academy programme and the introduction of ‘free schools’, which are centrally funded and largely autonomous.
A report from the Education Policy Institute published in 2018, which compared school performance and pupil improvement at every trust and local authority in England, found that there is no difference in the performance of multi-academy trusts and groups of local authority schools.
The Tower Trust have proposed to convert the academy school from a boys school to a mixed school with effect from September 2020. Over 4,000 people signed a petition against the proposals, and the petition was presented to elected members at a recent meeting of Tower Hamlets Council. The final decision about the school fell to the government’s Department for Education (DfE), who decided the conversion could go ahead.
The motion agreed by councillors called for a campaign to grant local authorities greater powers to help and support local schools, and called for more rigorous consultation when schools propose converting to academies.
Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People said: “A number of parents have raised their concerns over the decision to convert Stepney Greens Boys School into a mixed school, but as a council we have very few powers when it comes to academy schools. Our role now will be to support the school as best we can and to ensure that parents’ voices are heard going forward.
“More broadly we’re concerned about the ever-shrinking role of local councils in schools. More schools are becoming independent free schools and academies with limited oversight and accountability to local communities. There’s no mechanism either for a failing school to return to council control, instead they’re just transferred over to another academy trust. We want to see that change.”
Councillor Puru Miah, councillor for Mile End who proposed the motion, said: “Labour in Tower Hamlets has worked hard to deliver an integrated and inclusive education system, but the progress we’ve made is at real risk because of government cuts to education budgets and the government’s policy of forced academisation of schools. We think that local councils have an important role to play in education. I look forward to the day when we have a Labour government, under Jeremy Corbyn, that will take these state funded academy schools out of private hands and restore these community assets, physical as well as human, back under democratic control and accountability.
“The conversion of Stepney Green Boys academy school into a mixed school is very concerning to many residents, parents and children in our borough, and I would urge the school’s leaders to rethink their approach and take a more inclusive approach in engaging with local stakeholders, including parents and children.”
Labour Group Motion on Stepney Green Academy School
Proposer: Cllr Puru Miah
Seconder: Cllr Danny Hassell
This Council notes that, despite over eight years of cuts from Conservative-led Governments, Labour in Tower Hamlets has delivered an integrated and inclusive education system in which the vast majority of schools in Tower Hamlets are ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’.
- This Council is proud of all our schools and the staff who work hard to support Tower Hamlets young people to meet their aspirations and ambitions, and ensure they have the same opportunities as young people in wealthier boroughs.
- This has been achieved thanks to working in close partnership with our schools, teachers and parents.
- However, this Council is concerned that the advances made for children in Tower Hamlets could be threatened by the Conservative Government’s policy of forced academisation of schools, with no powers to return to local authority governance despite the concerns of parents and teachers.
- This Council notes that, the Conservative Government was forced to drop its plans to compel every school to become an academy by 2022 because of the loss of their majority in the 2017 General Election.
- This Council also notes that, in recent months there has been significant media coverage of how Academies are not working in the interests of students. There is evidence to show that once a public school is converted into a Multi-Academy trust the standard of education often drops and financial oversight becomes much more difficult. Academisation does not improve pupil attainment and a report from the Education Policy Institute published in 2018, which compared school performance and pupil improvement at every trust and local authority in England at both key stage two and four, found that there is no difference in the performance of multi-academy trusts and groups of local authority schools. It also revealed that academy chains are “disproportionately represented” amongst the worst performing groups of primary schools, with 12 making it into the bottom 20.The LGA itself has said that ‘it is wrong to suggest that academies have more transparency and accountability than council maintained schools.’
- This Council notes that some academies are not accountable to their local communities and represent a dangerous step towards privatising education. Stepney Green School converting from a single gender to a mixed school, against the wishes of a substantial number of parents, pupils and local stakeholders is a prime example.
- This Council further notes that Mayor Biggs has written to the Secretary of State about Stepney Green School, highlighting the petition and emphasising that ‘there is considerable disquiet at the openness and thoroughness of the consultation carried out by the school’ and stating ‘the conversion of Stepney Green into a mixed-sex school will significantly reduce parent choice in the borough.’
- This Council is concerned that the School Commissioner structure is undemocratic and unaccountable that risks the great work done in partnership between Tower Hamlets Council and schools to raise student results and attainment. Whereas schools In Tower Hamlets currently have their finances funnelled through national and local government, thus ensuring that there is a level of accountability, Academies receive finances straight from the Government, meaning that there is reduced scrutiny and monitoring which could pose risks to the sustainability of schools.
- This Council is also concerned that, despite there being no clear evidence that academisation improve schools, the number of schools becoming Academies in Tower Hamlets is growing.
- This Council is further concerned that the legal requirements regarding consultation for schools becoming academies are not rigorous enough and often mean only minimal consultation with parents and local communities.
- This Council believes that due to the wider impact on the education system in the borough significant changes to school governance should not be done without a significant mandate from parents and teachers.
- This Council further believes that it is vital that local authorities like Tower Hamlets continue to act as a ‘critical friend’ to schools by offering support and challenge in raising standards, as has been the case hitherto.
- This Council resolves to lobby the government to halt forced academisation by the Secretary of State.
- This Council resolves to lobby the government to give greater powers to local authorities to work with failing schools to find solutions, rather than the only option being forced academisation by the Secretary of State.
- To also lobby the government to allow schools to return to a local authority governed school.
- This Council also resolves to investigate other models of governance that allow local authorities greater partnership and influence within schools.
- This Council resolves to support and focus on continuing the outstanding achievements that a collaborative education system delivers for current and future generations of young people in Tower Hamlets.
- This council resolves to work with all schools in the borough to improve the educational standards and life chances for our children and young people.
- This Council resolves to work with Stepney Green Academy School to take a more inclusive approach in engaging with local stakeholders, including parents and children.