Ofsted: Council-maintained schools in England outperforming academies, research finds

Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings.
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Council-maintained schools in England consistently achieve higher Ofsted ratings than academies, according to research conducted for the Local Government Association (LGA). The study found that, as of January 31 93% of council-maintained schools were ranked “outstanding” or “good” by Ofsted, while only 87% of academies achieved the same grades after conversion.

Similarly, in January 2022, 92% of council-maintained schools received “outstanding” or “good” ratings, compared to 85% of academies following their conversion. The research also highlighted that academies faced challenges in improving standards, with only 57% managing to upgrade from “inadequate” or “requires improvement” to “good” or “outstanding”, while 73% of council-maintained schools achieved such improvements.

According to the Guardian, these findings have reignited the debate over “forced academisation,” especially in light of the government’s ambition to have all schools join multi-academy trusts (Mats) by 2030.

While 73% of academies voluntarily chose to become such institutions, others were compelled to do so after receiving “inadequate” ratings from Ofsted or consecutive “requires improvement” ratings.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has previously said the move towards academisation could penalise the nearly 50% of all pupils taught in locally maintained schools who already receive a good education. The government should instead focus on properly funding and resourcing all schools, he added.

The research has prompted various education stakeholders, including the National Education Union, to question the shift away from council-maintained schools. Presently, around 80% of secondary schools and 40% of primaries are academies, and councils have not been able to open maintained schools since 2012.

Between August 2018 and January 2023, 72% of council-maintained schools retained their “outstanding” rating, compared with 60% of “outstanding” academies that did not inherit grades from their former maintained school status.

About 40% of academies which did not inherit a grade fell by at least one grade, compared with 28% of maintained schools, which the LGA said showed councils should be seen as effective education partners.

Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Getty Images)Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Getty Images)
Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Getty Images)

Louise Gittins, a councillor and chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Our research is a reminder of the superb performance of council-maintained schools, and yet further evidence of why councils should be allowed to open their own schools again. Academisation can be the right choice and a good choice for some schools, and we fully recognise the positive progress schools that became academies have made.

“Councils want to ensure that every child gets the very best education and schooling in life. That is why it is vital they are given a central role in providing education and that [the] government recognises councils as the excellent education partner they are.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the findings demonstrated the “value of a democratically organised and supported school system”.

Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Research conducted for the Local Government Associations finds that council-maintained schools in England are outperforming academies in their Ofsted ratings. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

She added: “The LGA’s recommendations are sensible and important. Allowing local authorities to open new maintained schools would boost their ability to respond to demographic changes by opening quality provision. There is also a pressing need for greater local democratic oversight and coordination of admissions.

“Giving councils the power to direct all schools including academies to take in pupils would make our system fairer and more equitable and help ensure vulnerable pupils’ needs are met.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told the paper: “Academy reforms have played a major role in increasing the proportion of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools from 68% in 2010 to 88% last year.

“The best academy trusts transform outcomes for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, and deliver improvements in schools and areas where poor performance has become entrenched.

“Sponsored academies are usually former local authority maintained schools which were transferred to an academy trust in order to drive improvement following a poor Ofsted outcome, which is why these figures are completely misleading and wilfully ignore the real progress that academy trusts have made.”

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