'Academies are here to stay and the sooner we embrace the change, the sooner our pupils will benefit'
Frank Green, schools commissioner for England, writes:
It was a great honour and a privilege to be asked to be the Schools Commissioner for England, with oversight of the academies and free schools programmes and increasingly the development of an academy-based school system.
I am now two months into my new role and, with a growing understanding of the department’s inner workings, I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve in my two-year tenure.
As an evangelist for the academies movement, I am working with ministers and the education sector to shape the future of these schools, and bring as many others as possible into the new system.
The ultimate goal is always the same, and everything I do and try to do is always driven by it: that more children are better educated and have more chances in life.
I have a passionate view that the more independence schools have from the apron strings of the local authority, the more likely they are to grow up, be mature and take full responsibility for their actions and outcomes.
One head who had previously not been supportive of moving to academy status described it to me as like leaving home: you go from living with your parents to being responsible for your actions and making decisions for yourself.
Overall the academies movement has shown some very significant improvements in outcomes for children.
Academies offer freedom – but freedom with responsibility. And, as ever with life, there is a paradox. Here the paradox has always been that you only have freedom when you have discipline, ie, the strength of mind to take and implement the tough decisions when you need to, whether in your personal or professional life.
And schools are embracing this new responsibility – as Michael Gove said earlier this year, the best academies are already indistinguishable from good fee-paying schools. That has to be the objective. Only last week, a new sponsor sent me a note of a visit he had made to an outstanding academy saying that if his children were of school age now he would not have needed to send them to a private school.
My message to schools is that academies are here to stay and the sooner we all embrace the change, the sooner our pupils and staff will benefit.
As schools commissioner, I am meeting schools, potential sponsors, local authorities and a host of other interested parties – explaining the benefits of academy status and helping drive through improvements.
I also want to show school leaders that working as part of an academies chain is much more rewarding than trying to go it alone. The achievements of academies working together is one of the things that has excited me most about these reforms in recent years.
In Dartford, where I worked as chief executive of the Leigh Academies Trust for five years, I saw the impact that working with seven schools has on the whole community. The good work of one teacher can be multiplied across a whole area – and that is a great thing to be a part of.
Working in a chain provides consistency but that does not mean all schools look the same. In any good academy chain you also get internal competition and that leads to heads, teachers and pupils striving to achieve their best – a good thing in any school. Each school has its own distinctive ethos and culture, as well as some common features of the trust. The difference between being part of a partnership rather than a chain is comparable to the difference between a string of islands that are linked by a ferry that goes perhaps twice a day and a group of islands that are linked by bridges so that anyone can go to any island at any time.
Another part of my role is working with local authorities to find out how they can support academies in their area. It is about rethinking their role in a full independent state school system which is not just about their statutory duties of ensuring there are sufficient schools places, special educational needs provision or school transport.
They can help in holding academies to account. When they are no longer torn between loyalties to the schools they run and the parents in their area they can act as champions for the public. It is a role I would like to discuss with them much more.
In the next few months, I would like to hear from as many people as possible, not just heads and teachers, anyone involved in education, to find out the challenges that they face and to help schools realise the opportunities academies and free schools provide.
Academies are the future – I intend to project that vision and I will help schools get there. That’s my job, to find solutions and to bring this about.