Swindon Borough Council will not push schools to join multi-academy trusts in response to a change in government policy.

Just before the meeting of the Conservative cabinet this evening a report to members  which had originally called on them to support the Department for Education policy for all schools to become part of multi academy trust was changed.

The amendment to the report said cabinet should: “Authorise the Corporate Director of Children’s Services to continue to work with schools to explore options and opportunities of school governance structures that will benefit children and young people of Swindon and support a stronger school-led system.”

That’s significantly different from the original which said the council : “support the Secretary of State for Education policy decision for all schools to be part of a family of schools and to plan implementation for maintained schools in conjunction with the Regional Schools Commissioner by 2024/25.”

That would have seen the council’s 23 maintained schools made into academies free from local authority control and put into multi-academy trusts. The 18 stand-alone academies in Swindon would have been encouraged to join up with other schools.

The change in Swindon’s policy follows a change in the government’s policy. New education secretary Nadhim Zahawi told the National Association of Head teachers at its conference last week he prefers “ecosystem” with different types of school governance co-operating and he would not set “arbitrary timelines” for all schools joining MATs.

Council leader David Renard said: “The amendment was brought forward to reflect a speech by the new Secretary of State which suggests a new position. The original report was drafted in the context of the direction of travel of the previous Secretary of State.

“This is about exploring all options for the schools and finding the best fit.”

The NAHT had written to Swindon Borough Council calling on the authority to withdraw its plans to allow more consultation with schools.

Before the  meeting members of Fair Funding For All Schools Swindon and the National Education Union held a protest outside the offices.

District Secretary of the union Debbie Brown said: “We are concerned about forcing all schools to be part of multi academy trusts. There has been no consultation, it has almost been presented as a fait accomplish, there needs to be much more consultation. We’d prefer the report be taken off the table entirely to allow for much more discussion.”