The Chair of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel outlined the Panel's findings, conclusions and recommendations following a scrutiny investigation of future local authority involvement in academies.
The Board considered the following recommendations of the Panel based on the evidence submitted:-
(i) The Middlesbrough Council engages prospective and existing academies in early dialogue and close liaison to:-
(a) Ensure that they are aware of the local authority's statutory responsibilities (to provide sufficiency of places, education of vulnerable children and promote high standards/address under performance) and how these can be best fulfilled.
(b) Ensure that, as far as possible, all academies and stakeholder work together - and not in isolation - to ensure a continued, collective commitment to providing first class education in Middlesbrough for the benefit of all children and young people. This should include measures to ensure that current low numbers of exclusions are maintained and that adequate educational provision continues to be made for all vulnerable learners.
(c) Agree, if possible, a borough-wide policy on admissions and exclusions.
(ii) That the Government's Department for Education is urged to provide clarification as soon as possible on the definitive position regarding local authorities' responsibility for achievement/attainment in academies. Irrespective of any statutory role, a mechanism should be developed by Middlesbrough Council to collectively engage academies in discussions regarding any areas of future concern, including performance. The Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel should be involved in this process.
(iii) That the Council determines which of its support services should be made available to schools and academies on a trading basis and ensures that systems and processes are established to ensure that these services:
(a) Are commercially orientated, flexible and able to respond and adapt to any necessary future change and challenge.
(b) Are actively marketed to schools and academies to ensure that they are aware of all available services and their benefits.
(iv) That following any increase in academy numbers in Middlesbrough, and in order to assist Middlesbrough Council in its duty of ensuring sufficiency of school places, close monitoring of pupil numbers and places is undertaken. Action should then be taken in conjunction/consultation with all education providers, to ensure that the Authority's duty is fulfilled, as well as ensuring that any maintained schools continue to be viable. This should also ensure that measures are in place to deal with any future increases in pupil numbers.
(v) That the position is clarified regarding ownership of some of the Oakfields Academy site by the Hustler Trust. In particular, clarification should be sought on the Trust's position concerning possible future disposal of land used for playing fields.
(vi) That in order to ensure continuing democratically accountable representation, academies are actively encouraged to appoint local Councillors to governing bodies.
The Board acknowledged the ever changing circumstances and clarification required from the Government's Department for Education with particular regard to local authorities' responsibility for achievement and attainment in schools.
Members concurred with the concerns expressed by the Panel and the need for assurances to be gained regarding the future arrangements in relation to excluded pupils including the position in respect of the current Exclusions Trial and Pupil Referral Units in general.
In commenting on future funding arrangements specifically the potential impact of the number of factors taken into account when developing funding formula reducing from 37 to 12 it was pointed out that the aim of the funding reforms was to simplify procedures and reference was also made to the Pupil Premium which provided additional funding for schools to support disadvantaged pupils.
(N.B. At this point of the proceedings the Chair left the meeting and the Vice-Chair took the Chair.)
Given Members' concerns relating to future funding arrangements with particular regard to vulnerable children it was suggested that the situation should continue to be monitored and the Panel be kept updated on the matter.
Reference was made to one of the Panel's recommendations regarding clarification to be sought in relation to the ownership of some of the Oakfields Academy site by Hustler Trust. In response to a Members ' query it was confirmed that further information would be provided as to the ownership of an all weather pitch as identified.
ORDERED as follows:-
1. That the findings and recommendations of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel be endorsed and referred to the Executive.
2. That the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel receive an update in due course.