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Marcus Fagent

Academisation: Flexibility and innovation, but at a price?

Marcus Fagent discusses the impact of academy conversion on school building

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 21, 2016 | People, policy, politics, money

The Budget Statement has once again highlighted the intention of Government to impose academy status on the remaining 18,000 ‘un-academised’ schools.  This will remove the controlling hand of the local authority, and will allow schools flexibility and the opportunity for innovation in the way that they manage their buildings. But it will also remove some structures that drove efficiency and managed compliance, and offered protection to schools. There is always a balance to be struck between flexibility and effectiveness – we will need to find that balance again. 

After teacher recruitment and school performance, the next biggest issue in education is providing enough school places for our growing population. One hundred per cent academisation raises the question of who will now be responsible for ensuring that there are enough school places locally. It seems probable that local authorities will be required, in their developing role as Commissioner of Services, to identify the need for new places, and then to negotiate with local academies about which will expand, and when, and how, and at what cost. For this to work there will have to be a re-calibration of the relationship between the local authority and their local schools.

Academisation will give schools the choice as to whether they expand by building more classrooms, or by some other innovation – lengthening the school day, using more technology, creating mega-classes, or sharing resources between schools. Where schools choose to build, and most will, it will be expected now that they will manage the construction project. 

The safety net that local authorities and Dioceses still provide for the majority of schools in their asset management and statutory compliance for health and safety related issues will, worryingly, disappear. After 10 years of the centrally-delivered school condition programmes, Building Schools for the Future and the Priority Schools Building Programme, only seven per cent of the schools in England (and roughly the same in Scotland and Wales) have been re-built. The majority are still operating in patched-up buildings. Much is still to be done to repair condition and of course there is a lot of asbestos out there in schools.    

The responsibility for managing health and safety issues will now spread to a mix of single and multi academy trusts, and again the number of people who will need to build skills in managing these issues will rapidly increase. Generally, it is the case that not enough trusts have yet built their knowledge or ability to manage these matters on behalf of their schools. Again, the private sector will step in, but it will take a while for the national structure of support to re-balance. 

Exciting times ahead - but we need to proceed with care!

Marcus Fagent is Head of Education at Arcadis    

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