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All-round talent of academy heads

Academies have come of age

Academies have come of age

Academies have come of age. With a critical mass of 138 open this September - and more than 300 by 2010 - they are at the heart of school reform and increasingly have broad-based and bipartisan support.

So what makes a good academy leader? Seeing more than 1,300 from every level gathered at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium last month for our achievement show made it clear that we have a great generation of school leaders, and that a new professionalism is on the rise.

As schools explained their innovative ways of engaging parents or improving maths, they proved that the best reforms often come from schools themselves. But such innovation relies on good leadership, a theme of last week's SSAT academies conference, at which Professor Brent Davies, of Hull University, shared his findings on academy leadership.

He found that thay have an absolute focus on transformational leadership. They are entrepreneurs, too, with strong financial acumen. Their schools are typically located in poor communities, so their sense of social justice is heightened. They can balance strategic and day-to-day issues, while recognising that rapid short-term improvement is vital. Professor Davies concluded that they have the personal qualities and characteristics to stay the course.

One might say these are the characteristics of a strong leader in any school. But it is the nature of the challenge with academies - taking low-attaining schools on a journey of rapid improvement, winning over parents of all backgrounds and operating in a climate of intense controversy - that sets many of their leaders apart.

Two things are clear. No school can run with a "hero head" alone. Schools are as good not only as their heads, but as the teams working with them. All schools can benefit from the sort of collaboration offered by the best specialist schools, and some of them are now academy sponsors. There is no substitute for a good team and good partners, but they need great leaders to bring them together.

Elizabeth Reid, Chief executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT).

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