'Academy schools debate is over', says new children's services chief

Primary school classroom Councils have less say in local schools now, but are responsible for providing school places

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The debate about whether England's academy schools are good or bad and about school buildings is "over", a new children's services chief has said.

Andrew Webb, the new president of the Association of the Directors of Children's Services, says it is time to focus on "what children are being taught rather than where".

He made the comments as he took over as president of the ADCS.

And he has also warned of the danger of "becoming slaves to league tables".

Local councils' roles in education have been cut under the academy programme.

When schools become academies, they become semi-independent and outside of local authority control.

The new free schools, which are also academies, are also outside of council control and funded directly from central government.

Councils have also been affected by the government's decision to scrap the multi-billion pound Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, which led to the cancellation of hundreds of schemes.

Ministers said the scheme was wasteful and bureaucratic.

Mr Webb said: "The education debate surrounding structures and buildings is over.

"Whether academies are good or not is the wrong debate. We must concentrate on what our children are being taught and how rather than where. We need to focus rigorously on the needs of all children, in all population groups; to tailor our teaching to meet specific differences; and to expect all young people to want to meet stretching targets, particularly in the core subjects."

'Media-friendly league tables'

And he warned against a narrow focus on league tables for schools.

"What concerns me…. is the risk we create by placing too much reliance on a one-dimensional indicator and the impact that can have on the focus of a school and its eventual impact on individual outcomes; that in becoming slaves to the media-friendly league table, we can lose sight of the need to engage young people in a lifelong journey of learning or marginalise subjects such as the creative arts."

Directors of children's services also have responsibility for children in care and for adoption in their areas.

In a speech in London, Mr Webb called for a "radical review of the way community services work together" to help children in care.

He said that although children who are taken in to care when they are young generally do well, the same is not true for those who leave their natural families as teenagers.

"We need a joined up system for our young people, and rather than them seeing a number of specialists in a variety of settings, we need to explore alternative approaches which bring together the focus of care, education, and health services around the child and the family," he said.

Mr Webb also called for a greater use of "kinship care", where children are looked after by relatives or friends if their parents are not capable of looking after them, saying vulnerable children might do better if kept in their own communities.

Others have argued that children need a fresh start and to be taken out of their home area.

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