Radical plans by Richmond Council to turn all its schools into academies.

The Council leader Cllr Nicholas True says:

We support the Coalition Government vision that schools should be independent of local authorities. We aim to make that a reality locally. We will also aim to work with other local authorities and partners so that the support for schools now offered by the Council is available in new, more efficient and responsive ways to those who want it. Change is coming to education in Britain – change we support. The focus of power will shift fast from Town Halls to schools. We want Richmond schools to be at the forefront of that change, helping to shape it. We should not let the future happen to us. We should work together and create a pattern that works for our children and communities.

The proposals were discussed at a meeting last night. Pretty radical stuff. The section on academies says:

The initial criteria for academy conversion outlined by the Department for Education (DfE) were: an outstanding Ofsted judgement; a healthy budget; and a commitment to partnership working with at least one other school. These criteria have now been ‘relaxed’ to include schools that are ranked as
good with outstanding features and to include other schools, providing they work in partnership for improvement with a high-performing school.

The majority of Richmond upon Thames primary schools (36 out of 40) are graded as good or outstanding from their previous inspection. Almost all have healthy budgets and, through five local groupings, the so-called ‘quindrat’ model, all are involved in partnership working for school improvement. Therefore, the borough is in an ideal position to move our schools through to academy status. This is our intention.

We aim, working together with our schools, to support them converting to academy status over a three year period. One scenario could be that all secondary schools and some good/outstanding primary schools convert in the first year, with two further tranches of primary and special schools supported by the local authority to convert in the second and third years.

There is already an infrastructure through the quindrats for providing mutual support and taking on the role of running more local services. Many schools in the borough also have the expertise and capacity within their workforce to support others with school improvement initiatives. We will be working to help shape these structures to support our network of academies.

What will that leave the Council's Education officers to do?

We expect the old LEA will not exist by 2014.
Our plan is to move towards a commissioning model and to outsource Children’s Services to new providers.

Currently, a number of alternatives are being explored which include:
• creation of a social enterprise (partnership) with teams from at least one other neighbouring authority to provide a wide range of children’s services across two councils;
• the transfer of specific school support advisory staff into a separate joint pan London trading company to provide services to schools across a wider geographical area.
The benefits of these two recommended models of service delivery are:
• on-going savings to Richmond upon Thames Council;
• sustained services to local residents and schools.
The Council may choose to commission targeted and specialist services to ensure:
• high quality provision for vulnerable pupils and those with learning difficulties and disabilities;
• high priority to safeguarding young people;
• excellent value for money.
Schools and academies will be able to commission school improvement services to ensure:
• workforce development opportunities;
• high quality teaching and learning;
• continual academic achievement;
• excellent value for money.
We are committed to providing efficient and effective delivery of services and reducing service costs to the Council.

What they really need, though, is to give active encouragement to getting some Free Schools started. What surplus council buildings do they have that could make viable sites?

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