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Schools concerns on hold until autumn

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A key report on the role of local authorities in education will not be discussed formally with the Department for Education until autumn, after a meeting between schools, local authority representatives and ministers was cancelled.

The report, which was commissioned by the department and carried out by the consultancy firm Isos Partnership, raised a list of concerns about the rise in academies and free schools. It said a rise in free schools could threaten the viability of good local schools and those that met the needs of a specific section of the community.

It also warned that councils were anxious about their ability to support and challenge their remaining maintained schools as their budgets for support services fell, and said some academies were refusing to expand to meet rising demand for places.

The ministerial advisory group on the role of councils in education, which brings together local authorities, schools and DfE ministers, was due to meet shortly before the report was published, to discuss ways to address its findings. However, the meeting was cancelled and the group will not be reconvened until the autumn.

Despite the list of concerns unearthed during the nine-month research project, the DfE issued only a short statement in which it said “it could only benefit a local area” if a school “becomes more attractive to parents as a result of becoming an academy.” A spokeswoman for the department said it did not intend to comment further on the report.

One member of the group told LGC: “It could be that the issue is on the back burner, as adoption and safeguarding come to the fore. It could be purely about ministerial time commitments, or it could be that the DfE just isn’t ready to address the issues around education reforms yet.”

However, David Pugh (Con), leader of Isle of Wight council, said: “In some ways it’s not a bad thing that we won’t discuss this until autumn, because it will give the department time to take a considered approach.”

Cllr Pugh said he hoped the DfE would encourage local authorities to take a scrutiny role in academies and free schools, adding that all schools in his area were held to account by the council’s scrutiny committee.

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