Education system agreed by all

Watching the politicians exchanging views, releasing reforms and generally disagreeing over Academy and Free school systems has been like watching a dull game of ping pong with no time limit on the match. However it seems that after weeks and months of dispute and disagreements one thing has become clearer, Academies and Free Schools are here to stay.
A secondary school student walking towards the school building.
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Before the Labour Conference, Angela Rayner had spoken boldly about scrapping our current academy and free School system, stating that schools should be returned to local authority control due to the system ‘not being fit for purpose.’ However in a seemingly ‘U-turn’ interview with Schools Week, the Ashton-Under-Lyne MP now states she no longer wants to get “bogged down” in debates on the merits of certain types of school, and will instead pursue the government on the use of public money.

This sets out a change of direction from the party’s usual anti-academy stance and raises questions how local authorities would be involved in the education system under a future Labour government.

The Shadow Secretary of Education made it clear that although she seemed to have softened her approach regarding the future of our academies, the Tameside MP wants to rally against ensuring what happened recently in Wakefield cannot and does not happen again, commenting she finds ‘the handing back of the keys a disgrace’.

Damian Hinds’ Response

Damian Hinds recently highlighted the success of the academy programme in his ‘memo to labour’ and outlined that “half a million children now study in a good or outstanding sponsored academy, which was typically a previously failing school. ” He states, “these were the schools that had been left to fail for decades – the ones that no one wanted their kids to go to, but had no choice”.

So eventually there seems to be some sort of loose political shared vision about the way forward, in-terms of academies and free schools, albeit both parties recognise there is much more to do to strengthen the system.

The Secretary for Education continued to outline his view on the ‘free school’ programme and stated the basis of the free school programme is to empower parents and teachers who want to set up their own school. He quotes, “the country now has 450 of them, and they are among the highest performing state-funded schools in the country.” This mirrors his short key note speech at the summer NGA conference where he stated “effective MATs should purely be considered as schools together doing more than they can do on their own”.

All sounds good?

During the recent Lancashire and West Yorks RSC conference in Manchester Vicky Beer mirrored Hinds views and outlined that further improvements to the system are needed, commenting she felt there are currently too many small MAT’s in operation with little accountability or rigour. She does not want to see MAT’s doing the same work and re-inventing the wheel as the one down the road, she asked for more collaboration between MAT’s with a view to more merging. Her focus was on creating MATs with 6-10 academies and the optimum 11-20. Albeit Vicky Beer did acknowledge that there have been situations where MAT’s have grown too quickly and there has not been enough financial accountability. However, she believed this will not happen again as the Academies Financial Handbook has recently significantly changed, which will allow deeper scrutiny of accounting procedures for all Academies. Vicky Beer gave a compelling account on the future of Academies, empowering the audience at the conference. She wants academies to have a real sense of mission and purpose to produce a successful ‘MAT dividend’ which will add value to everyone involved in the system including; staff, parents, students etc. Interestingly, this ideology is not that far removed from the content of Labours recently released 10 point charter of their idea for a ‘National Education Service’ – are we seeing a joined up approach with our lovable ping pong players?


As a Governor of a ‘Good’ maintained school myself, I still have to question the actual incentives for us to convert. We blissfully sit as part of a cluster of schools in the leafy green hills, who offer support to one another on an informal basis, finances are good and we think it all works well. Sir David Carter gave an interesting speech at the RSC conference in this regard and convinced me the time may have come where we start to look at academisation to further improve and develop our school, people and outcomes. Sir David, in one of his last speeches in office as National Schools Commissioner, posed five of his ‘powers of persuasion’ to those in the audience who remained uncertain in relation to their academy decision making, in summary he asked us to consider;

  1. Leadership challenge – Who effectively does this in a maintained school? Who fully understands the school enough to provide robust and noticeable challenge to raise outcomes? Who ensures the vision and mission of the school is being practised by all?
  2. Balance of morality- Why should some schools be struggling? Why should some children not get a good deal when a school up the road is doing fantastically well? Why shouldn’t we be sharing resources and supporting each other in a formal accountable system?
  3. Career progression- The MAT system should empower and develop staff, allowing movement between academies, inspiring talent management and sharing people resources where the need is greatest across the MAT. There should be a real emphasis on developing leaders for the future.
  4. Efficiencies – not just financial – The MAT system should allow more sharing of resources, policies and lesson plans etc which will reduce the workload of staff. Services can be brokered more effectively and costs are reduced.
  5. Improving Governance – More support for governing bodies delivered by Trustees and Members – all with a consistent view on the mission and purpose of the academies across a MAT. A real shared commitment can be celebrated from academy to academy.

In conclusion

I think there is strong evidence to suggest the academy and free school system is starting to positively build upon the ‘lesson learnt’ in previous years. There are convincing arguments to suggest academisation may be the way forward for maintained schools who have not yet converted due to positive statistics now emerging. However my advice still to any school would be not to rush into this important decision and to ensure proper and thorough due diligence takes place before entering into any MAT or setting one up.

How we can help…

One Education offer a free visioning meeting for governors or school leaders who want more information academies and the regional and national context to help them make a decision. We also work with partners who can carry out detailed due diligence analysis on any MAT you may be considering entering or to provide a choice of MATs to consider.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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