Up to 50 Sheffield schools to become academies

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A GROWING wave of academy schools in Sheffield is set to see up to 50 created in the city in the next two years.

Education chiefs insist their role is not ‘diminished’ when schools become academies, which are hailed as free from council control with more freedom to improve standards. 
But by 2014 it is expected there will be 50 academies - or about a quarter of the city’s schools – with many in the process.

Sheffield Council children’s director Sonia Sharp, speaking before she left the role, said schools had been free from council control ‘for a long time’ and its continuing role was to commission good education.

The council will still work closely with all schools and new academies are asked to sign up to a range of commitments such as an admissions policy, providing city-wide services and allowing union membership for staff.

Dr Sharp, speaking as she left the post of schools chief, added: “If you look across the country there are some authorities where every school has converted to an academy.

“I think we have probably got the number we would expect, given that the Government wants every school to convert to an academy in the next 10 years.

“We don’t have control of academies but we still have the influence and the right to challenge and pick up issues.”

And Dr Sharp said any challenges faced from the conversion of academies would be from how schools behaved - rather than their governance.

She added: “If they do all that they can to improve outcomes for children in their communities, are open to children in their communities and work together on education in the city then the governance has less of an impact.

“If schools operate in an insular manner it could be problematic but that applies to all types of schools.”

Local authorities still set budgets for academies through a formula but it is then paid directly to them by the Department of Education.

Academies also receive cash to cover services they become responsible for, like insurance and finance management, rather than the council.

To recoup the loss councils can downsize and sell services, such as home-to-school transport and disability support, to academies.

The council admits there may be ‘economies of scale’ but hopes schools will still buy services or club together to provide them - with Tapton still purchasing services.

Dr Sharp, who said a recent review of school services had made sure they were value for money, added: “I have got a lot of faith in our heads, they do think collaboratively and are working to support other schools in the city.”