THE YOUNG PEOPLES LEARNING AGENCY AND ACADEMIES
Will Academies concerns be addressed?
It seems likely that the Tories will abolish the YPLA viewing it as an unnecessary quango. Many Academy sponsors have been worried about the YPLA seeing it as a Trojan horse, a means by which local authorities will increase their influence over Academies.
Mike Butler, the chairman of the Independent Academies Association, wrote a letter to the then Schools Minister, Jim Knight, in which he set out the academies’ concern that, during the past couple of years: “It appears that with every consultation, each missive and even new legislation from the DCSF there comes further erosion of the independent status of academies”. He also commented that academies were established to, “turn around endemic educational underperformance in the most challenging of contexts in respect of socio-economic deprivation. To do so, it was recognised that new organisations had to be established that would be freed from the constraints of Local Authority control, from the old governance arrangements and from the vagaries of local bureaucracy”.
Proposed legislation in the form of the Apprenticeships Skills Children and Learning Bill, completing its passage through Parliament, doesn’t in fact suggest that the YPLA will have any control over funding decisions, but academies are concerned that in practice it will, albeit through indirect routes.
They are worried for instance that local authorities will be able to influence what courses schools can offer under their “planning and commissioning” hat. Given that schools are funded according to the courses that they offer, local authorities will have the power to influence funding in this way. A key concern, therefore, is that local authorities, which are accountable to local councillors for the success of schools, are more likely to choose their own schools rather than independent academies for specific courses.
There is also a particular concern over Sixth Forms .Academy associations and federations have expressed concern that the expansion of an academy to include a new sixth form might initially appear uneconomic compared with the economies of scale of, for example, expanding a large FE college; indeed, this may already be happening. A recent example given in a Lords debate on the Bill (in Committee) from a London borough demonstrates the point well. It was hoped that an academy could be set up in the borough, but the local authority stated that opening an 11 to 18 academy to replace an 11 to 16 school did not fit with the local commissioning plan. In fact, the reason that the local authority refused permission was that it was worried that the success of the academy would undermine a post-16 college nearby, which would not be accepted locally. What is to stop new providers being thwarted in other areas when trying to open post-16 provision by local authorities tied up in local politics?
The Government has responded to these concerns by saying that it intends, by the Report stage of the Bill, to outline what it plans to include in the Secretary of State’s policy guidance to the YPLA, in relation to academy arrangements. That outline will also set the key principles that should govern the way in which the YPLA operates in relation to academies. Ministers believe that Academies will be reassured by this as it will include “absolute respect for the autonomy of academies”.
We shall see.
But with the YPLAs future not assured, at least under a Tory administration, this might all be rather academic.