Sir David Carter spoke about school improvement today. Here are five things we learned

19th October 2016 at 16:16
Sir David Carter
Schools should look for guidance from teachers in other institutions that have been in special measures, the national schools commissioner says

The national schools commissioner, Sir David Carter, told the Westminster Education Forum today about his plans for school improvement, the growth of multi-academy trusts (MATs) and how best to unite the profession. 

Here are the five key things that we learned from him this morning:  

1. Outstanding schools can learn from schools that have been in special measures 

Sir David, who has led two outstanding schools and taken on two in special measures, believes that teachers in schools rated as less than outstanding should help with school improvement.

He said: “I think there is as much, possibly even more, to learn from the teachers who have gone from special measures to good as [there is] from the ones that have gone from good to outstanding. Yet at the moment the badges in our system don’t reflect that.

“The system that we live in makes an assumption that only good or outstanding schools are helpful schools."

But Sir David added: “If you work in a special measures school, the reality is that you have some brilliant practice. There’s just not enough of it and it is not in the right place.

"[And in outstanding schools] not everything is outstanding, and you have got to pay attention to those things in as much detail as anyone else.

"There are more people coming forward to be sponsors who have been in special measures than those who have been outstanding for 10 years.”

2. 'Don't worry too much about structures'

The government's education White Paper, published earlier this year, made the divide between local authority schools and academies "even wider", Sir David believes. 

“Depending on which group you were in, which group you believed in, which group you thought was achieving the best for the kids, you loved one, you despised the other," he said.

"That is a really, really dysfunctional way of designing our education system for kids."

In the next four to five years, Sir David wants to look at designing what a great education system would look like with the help of the entire sector. But he said that schools should not "worry too much about what structure governs or leads them”.

Sir David urged local authorities and regional schools commissioners (RSCs) to work more closely together. He said: “I’d like to see a landscape where you help us and we help you.

"Both of our worlds are about commissioning and monitoring. That knowledge and local intelligence is a really important part. We need to work together and open up a dialogue.”

3. The U-turn on all schools becoming academies by 2022 is 'welcome' 

Sir David welcomed the fact that the new education secretary, Justine Greening, is no longer saying that all schools have to be converted into an academy by 2022

He said: "We stopped talking about compulsion and we stopped talking about 2022 as an end date. But still maintained that all schools would become academies in the future, but let’s have a dialogue about it. I welcome that."

Sir David wants to strike a balance between growing capacity in the system and improving it. 

He said: “I think the reality of moving from 6,000 academies to 21,000 would have meant that the bulk of the work of my team and I would have been academy conversion."

The schools commissioner acknowledged that this process "flies in the face" of his views on how structures should not lead the profession.

Sir David added: “I have got no doubt that eventually we would have found a way to have done it. But if by 2022 standards were worse, there would have been a 'so what?' question.”

4. Successful academy chains will become 'mentor MATs'

Sir David hopes to introduce a strategy called "mentor MATs" later this year to help the schools starting up as a trust.

He said: "So what I see some of the MATs who have been through that journey doing is providing that relationship for maybe two to three years to enable the new MATs to get set up, to focus just on school improvement to make sure we get that right first. So all the other things that are really important don't distract from that classroom practice."

5. It's a 'myth' that chains failed because they grew too quickly 

Sir David said: “There’s this myth in the system that says some of our early multi-academy trusts grew too fast, too soon, and that’s why they failed.

"That’s a myth – it’s not true. Yes, some of them did grow quite quick, but because they grew quickly wasn’t why they failed.

Sir David believes there were three reasons why they failed: 

  • They gave the same degree of autonomy to those in special measures as they did to outstanding schools;
  • They didn't have a school improvement strategy for their trust;
  • They didn't have a family of schools to cluster around in a local area.

Sir David added that when regional schools commissioners are making decisions about multi-academy trusts' growth or new trusts "geography still matters".

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