Push for academy schools raises ‘grave concerns’ about impact on safeguarding

Children's services bosses say the government's plans to make all schools academies could weaken child safeguarding

sad school child
Photo: REX

Government plans to remove local authority influence over schools risks damaging child safeguarding, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has warned.

The Department for Education’s Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper sets out plans to make every school an academy by the end of 2022, a move that it says will see councils “step back from maintaining schools and school improvement”.

The responsibilities of directors of children’s services and lead members for children are also to be reviewed in light of the plan to slim down local authority oversight of schools.

Missing from education

Debbie Barnes, chair of the ADCS’s educational achievement policy committee, said the “academisation” of all schools could disrupt efforts to safeguard children.

“The local authority will continue to have a role in championing the needs of vulnerable children so it is essential that we continue to have a strong relationship with all schools and education providers,” she said.

“We also have grave concerns that some of the reforms outlined in the white paper could impact on the wider safeguarding arrangements in place between local authorities and schools.

“Local authorities need to have an ability to support and challenge schools and academies to ensure that appropriate help and support is provided to all pupils in all schools, especially the most vulnerable children.

“Take the example of children missing from education, this can often be a sign of other vulnerabilities that if identified early enough could keep young people safe from more serious safeguarding issues later on.”

“As champions for children and young people we recognise the crucial link between social care and education and we hope that government does too and we await further information from the government in order to understand the full implications of these reforms.”

Adoption role for virtual heads

A DfE spokesman told Community Care that the white paper is a long-term document and the proposals would be explained in more detail and consulted on in due course. The government, he added, will also make sure the changes do not damage safeguarding work.

The government’s white paper also proposes widening the role of virtual school heads to include adopted children in response to figures showing that adopted children underperform in education relative to their peers.

“The role of the virtual school head is to promote the educational achievement of all children in care in their local authority and there is growing evidence that this role is having a positive impact on the progress children in care make in their education by providing them with the extra help and support that they may need,” said Barnes.

“Although we are aware that nothing has yet been set in stone, we welcome an opportunity for virtual school heads to be able to offer guidance and advice on improving educational outcomes for adopted children.”

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