The future of academies

6th May 2016 at 00:00

The Schools White Paper has at its core the vision that all schools will become academies by 2022. My task, and that of my team of regional schools commissioners (RSCs), is to work with the sector and build the capacity to deliver this vision. I have been thinking about the best ways to approach this task.

Having spent 19 years as principal and chief executive of a multi-academy trust (MAT) before I became the RSC for the South West, I constantly remind myself of the need to see the world through the lens of those leading schools when offering constructive advice about the future.

My vision for the education system is based on the view that, as leaders, we have a duty to ensure that all children achieve their personal best, irrespective of their starting point.

I would also want to encourage all schools to choose to be givers and receivers of support. This will be critical if we are to create an equal and socially just education system that places the needs of all children in every school at its core, and where the best schools help to improve performance in weaker schools. If this becomes the norm, then the weaker schools of today will become the system leaders of tomorrow.

Schools that collaborate as part of MATs see the value of clear lines of accountability. They also recognise the authority that is invested in an executive head or chief executive to make important strategic decisions that will raise standards. We know that school improvement is rarely linear, so building collective capacity to take decisions and provide rapid support across the trust is essential. This works alongside the collective responsibility of leaders and teachers to uphold the moral purpose of the educational entitlement of all children. It is this view that should inform the debate.

As national schools commissioner, I want to stimulate more discussion about how we can build our education system together. I want to share three thoughts that have been underpinning my thinking over the past few weeks.

First, there is no need to rush into a decision. The policy to convert all schools into academies has a six-year delivery timetable. This timescale is unprecedented in my experience of managing educational change. I want all schools to enjoy the same freedoms as academies. Leaders and teachers will want to think carefully about what this looks like for their school and community.

Secondly, I am certain that there is a place in our education system for successful, sustainable stand-alone academies. I can also see that there is clear momentum towards more schools wanting to join a MAT. We know that 95 per cent of MATs are made up of fewer than 10 schools; 80 per cent have fewer than five. Therefore, the typical MAT of the future is likely to be made up of a group of local schools that have worked together for years, share the same values, and work comfortably with a leader who is well known to that community and has been appointed because they have an outstanding track record.

Thirdly, many schools have excellent relationships with their local authority. Where these partnerships benefit children, my team and I want to encourage new academies and MATs to continue with this work. I would go further and suggest that the many talented individuals who are employed by local authorities could consider setting up their own MAT, so that their considerable impact could be sustained in a different way.

Finally, I know that leadership teams and governing bodies will be discussing these changes this term. If I were attending these meetings, I would want to build a conversation around the following three questions:

1. What strengths could we share with other schools, as a sponsor or lead school in a MAT?

2. What are the areas of weakness that could be improved if we worked within a formal partnership?

3. Which partnerships add so much value to our work that we would not want to lose them?

Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner

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