As chief executive of the Elliot Foundation Academies Trust, Hugh Greenway has first-hand experience of the different methods the Department for Education has used to regulate the growth of academy trusts.
With 27 primary schools, the Elliot Foundation is now one of the biggest academy trusts in England, but in 2012-13 the government formally paused its growth – although Greenway did not initially know that this decision had been made. The restriction was lifted the following year.
“It made life very difficult for the trust,” he says, “because we had made it clear to the DfE that we needed 15 schools to break even. We were paused at five.
“But I support the right and absolute responsibility to exercise that control when they see risk, because otherwise, you have an ungoverned system.”
The Elliot Foundation was included in the pilots of the DfE’s growth readiness check, which were announced last year.
The four-day process involved four people from Oasis, another large academy chain, testing Elliot’s school improvement, people and leadership, risk management, financial sustainability and governance.
The subsequent seven-page report, dated February 2017, outlined strengths, such as its “effective challenge and support” and “risk management”, as well as “potential lines of enquiry” for the trust, including the capacity of senior leaders – and retaining its ethos – as it expands. It concludes that the trust is “in a secure position to grow”.
For Greenway, the new system is an improvement, with those who are carrying out the regulations having “a better understanding of what it’s like on the other side”. “Most importantly,” he adds, it “involves the people being regulated, while the earlier process was a decision made behind closed doors”.
Greenway believes the process “has to be as transparent as possible, so those being regulated can understand the basis on which decisions about them are being made and lobby if they think they are ill-informed or unfair”.
And he is a keen supporter of Ofsted having the power to carry out full inspections of academy trusts: “It would be good to have that external view as well,” he says.