UNISON warns on academies push in new legislation

IPPR report supports union view that Education and Adoption Bill will see resources spent on admin, contracts and legal advice

The government’s push to force more English schools to become academies would mean more and more resources devoted to administration, legal advice and contractual issues rather than education, UNISON warned today.

Speaking after the publication of a new Institute for Public Policy Research report, UNISON national secretary Jon Richards said it highlights a “growing divergence in the legal position between maintained and academy schools”.

The IPPR report comes as the UK Parliament considers the government’s Education and Adoption Bill, which includes new provisions for converting English schools to academies.

The report – A legal bind: the future legal framework for England’s schools – points out that legislation covers the funding of so-called maintained schools.

But academies and multi-academy trust chains – which includes all new schools – are funded via separate agreements with the government. This means they are outside parliamentary scrutiny and the agreements can differ from school to school or chain to chain.

Mr Richards added: “UNISON continues to be concerned about the inconsistencies between schools and the fact that the government can change its requirements on academies without parliamentary scrutiny.”

The legal framework surrounding academies also means that individual schools in a multi-academy trust lose their autonomy as the school no longer exists as a separate legal entity.

A school which wanted to leave an academy chain would not be able to do so.

Local authority maintained schools are all separate legal entities.

At the same time, UNISON warns that academies are not currently required to provide extra places, making it increasingly difficult for local authorities in England to deal with changing demand for school places.

The Local Government Association has called for councils to be given back the right to establish new maintained schools, if good quality sponsors for free schools cannot be secured.

The LGA agreed with the IPPR that funding agreements between central government and academies should be done on a five yearly basis, allowing better planning and reviews to take place.