Coronavirus: Barking and Dagenham Council calls for total suspension to academy conversions

Cllr Evelyn Carpenter has spoken out academy conversions which continue to take place during the cor

Cllr Evelyn Carpenter has spoken out academy conversions which continue to take place during the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: LBBD - Credit: Archant

Barking and Dagenham Council has urged the government to pause its plans for academy conversions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The council is one of 19 in the capital to lend its voice to the local government association’s (LGA) call for a pause which would enable councils to concentrate on working to support vulnerable children and those of key workers.

In the letter signed by 19 senior London councillors to MP Gavin Williamson, secretary of state for education, they ask that academy conversions be suspended to allow councils to focus on supporting schools and nurseries to stay open.

Councillor Evelyn Carpenter, letter signatory and Barking and Dagenham’s cabinet member for education and school improvement, said: “Considerable time will be spent on academy conversion to transfer staff, assets and financial agreements.

“Our main concern is that allowing academy conversions to continue at this time will undermine essential work, including our efforts to coordinate provision for vulnerable children.

“As our staff are working hard to deliver for children and young people at this time, working at reduced capacity and taking staff away from this primary duty of care to process applications for academy conversions will reduce capacity further.”

The LGA has said 594 academy conversions are in the pipeline, involving the transfer of staff, assets, (including property) and financial agreements, all of which concerns Cllr Carpenter: “Academisation includes a legal requirement to re-negotiate contracts with suppliers, which goes against the government’s advice that schools continue to pay suppliers during the coronavirus crisis.”

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It is also claimed that councils will have to pick up the bill if a school has a deficit upon conversion.

In response, a department for education spokesman said: “Ofsted has suspended routine inspections and we will therefore not be issuing academy orders to schools newly judged inadequate in the short term. We are considering academy conversions on a case by case basis – some conversions are continuing if this is in the best interests of pupils.”

The department added that it successfully supported a number of schools to become academies on April and May 1.