Education Jul 20 2010

Unaccountable bureaucrats to run new academies and ‘free’ schools

By Guy Dixon 1 comment

There has been a lot of loose talk in the media about academies receiving their funding directly from the Secretary of State for Education. Though this was true under the last government it is no longer the case. That responsibility has now been transferred the Young People’s Learning Agency for England, otherwise known as the YPLA

So what is the YPLA and what are its functions?  It was created by the last government under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 as one of the successors to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) itself created by the Labour government under the Learning and Skills Act 2000.

The LSC itself brought together the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) and the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), both the creation of the previous Conservative government. It was initially charged with the funding of further education colleges, local authority adult education and various private and charitable adult education and training providers, but following representations about the inequalities in funding 16-19 education as between the further education colleges and school sixth forms the LSC was subsequently given the responsibility of funding the latter as well.  As such the LSC was the largest quango in the country.

The LSC however proved not fit for purpose and for a multitude of reasons, one of which was the quality of its staff (particularly those who came from the TECs), but another was its sheer size and cost. In 2008 the Labour government announced it would be abolished. Its functions would now be split between the YPLA funding 16-19 education and a new Skills Funding Agency funding post 19 education.

However paragraph 77 (1) of the 2009 Act gave the Secretary of State the power to ‘require the YPLA to enter into Academy arrangements with the Secretary of State’ i.e. fund academies. Whether the Labour government was intending to activate this power is unclear, but the current Secretary of State has now done so.

There was no reference in the 2009 Act to primary schools, all the references to academies being to secondary education. However paragraph 61 (2) requires that ‘The YPLA must also secure the provision of financial resources in accordance with any directions given to it by the Secretary of State’ and it would appear that Michael Gove has used this particular power to direct the YPLA to fund primary academies as well.

Details of the YPLA can be found on its website. Essentially it is a quango whose council members are appointed by and responsible to the Secretary of State. It has four national offices in Coventry, London, Sheffield and Darlington and regional offices in each of the nine English Regions. The Darlington office ‘focuses on academies’.

How these various regional offices will actually relate to academies is unclear i.e. if a school is an academy near Land’s End in Cornwall will its relationship be with the Darlington office some 350 miles away or the YPLA SW regional office a mere 165 miles distant in Bristol (as against the Cornwall LA office in Truro 35 miles away)? And what experience will the staff of these offices (who may have started out as TEC or LSC employees), have of under 16 schools’ education?

Why all this is important is that anyone with any experience of education knows that from time to time schools face problems that require external help. This can range from needing a temporary headteacher at short notice or dealing with an utterly unreasonable governing body, through to accommodation for pupils after their building has been declared structurally unsafe or has burnt down, not to mention such minor matters as being given Notice to Improve or put into Special Measures by OFSTED.

For LA maintained schools that help is currently provided by their LA (sometimes in the case of voluntary aided schools in conjunction with their local diocese).  The quality of that help will vary between LA and LA. But even where schools are critical of their particular LA do they really expect to get a better service from the YPLA?  Indeed it is not even clear what role the YPLA is expected to play in these types of situations; it is possible the government is simply envisaging that somehow academies will buy this sort of help on the open market.

It is also worth noting two particular functions that have been given to the YPLA and that is to deal with complaints about an academies admissions arrangements or complaints about admissions appeals. For maintained schools these are dealt with by the Schools Adjudicator and Local Government Ombudsman respectively. The reason given for these functions being given to the YPLA to exercise them on behalf of the Secretary of State is that the ‘contractual nature’ of the Secretary of State’s relationship with academies which means that since the Schools Adjudicator and the Local Government Ombudsman are not party to the contract they ‘could not, for example, make binding changes to the admission arrangements by varying it’ (letter from Lord Hill, Under Secretary of State for Schools to Earl of Listowel, 1 July 2010).

This would seem disingenuous since if the Secretary of State can delegate these functions to the YPLA he could equally well delegate them to the Schools’ Adjudicator and the Local Government Obudsman. It is unlikely this move is because it is felt the YPLA (who have absolutely no experience in this field) will do a better job.

Shortly after taking office Michael Gove announced that he hoped eventually all English maintained schools would become academies. Given the role the YPLA has been given this would mean that a quango even larger than the LSC with nine regional offices would be responsible for some 20,000 odd schools e.g. all schools in NW England from Carlisle to Crewe would have as their contact point the YPLA regional office in Manchester. How this would be expected to work is anyone’s guess.

One Response to “Unaccountable bureaucrats to run new academies and ‘free’ schools”

  1. Kate says:

    I don't really know which bit of the Academies situation I hate the most, but as someone involved in the teaching of sex and relationship education, I was further horrified to discover that the funding arrangement outlines the need in relation to SRE for pupils to be protected from “inappropriate materials” and to be taught about the concept of marriage, with no mention of any other family arrangement. I can't be the only person who believes that sounds like a reinvention of clause 28?

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