The research reveals a significant amount of confusion amongst parents as to where accountability and responsibility for academies and free schools sits. 44 per cent of parents with a child at an academy and 63 per cent of those with a child at a free school believe that local councils have the power to influence or intervene if the school was underperforming. Furthermore, a fifth of parents think the local council is held to account for the performance of academies and free schools – only slightly less than the proportion of parents that see central government as responsible for holding these schools to account
There is also a prevalent view that local councils play a valuable role in maintaining and improving standards across all school types and should be able to intervene if necessary. 78 per cent of parents feel their local council plays an important role in ensuring that education standards are high. 70 per cent think that councils should have powers of influence and intervention over free schools, and 68 per cent think they should have these powers over academies. Interestingly, this opinion has become more prevalent since 2013, when 62 per cent thought that councils should have these responsibilities in relation to academies and free schools.
It is likely that this view is driven partly by the relatively greater trust placed in local authorities compared with central government. For example, a fifth (19 per cent) of parents trust the local council to be accountable for free schools, compared to 7 per cent who trust central government to play this role. Moreover, one in three (29 per cent) of parents would turn to their local council if their child’s school showed signs of declining education standards, compared to 6 per cent who would turn to central government – a view that is consistent across all school types.
In terms of financial accountability, 40 per cent of parents think that local councils should ensure that academies are spending their money in a responsible way, compared to only 37 per cent who think the Department for Education should play this role. The proportion of parents who think local councils should be involved in scrutinising the spending of academies has risen over the past five years.