I have had many conversations with headteachers and governors about the pros and cons of converting to an academy. Many schools feel in limbo currently, especially those who feel that their local authority is diminishing and can no longer provide the necessary support they require.
Government Academisation Programme
The climb-down in 2016 by the government, to sweeten the rebellion of its own MPs, to force all schools in a local authority not meeting performance thresholds to convert to academy status seems to have put some hesitation into decision making within schools.
Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, speaking at the SSAT conference in December said “Let’s be in no doubt about this - this government is still on a journey that every school in this country will become an academy, but not by 2022, and not by compulsion.” This follows the comments made by Lord Nash the same week to the education select committee that academisation would reach a “tipping point” in the next five or six years when it would no longer be possible to run a “dual system”.
Academy or Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)?
So where does that leave the maintained sector in its decision making? During a recent governing body meeting at a maintained primary school, I was asked a series of questions about what they should do next in terms of making the decision to convert. The answer was simply that the school needs to be continually visioning the future. They looked at me confused for a moment until I explained further.
Visioning is used in business to review capacity, to envisage future market trends and plan accordingly. One way of doing this is to use a simple SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; and is a simple yet effective tool for analysis. Your school could conduct a series of SWOT assessments on a variety of its areas and outside influences such as:
Leadership, Teaching & Learning
- What can you highlight about your academic success?
- Where do you have maximum or minimal capacity?
- Realistically, where do you need to improve?
- What do the dynamics of the SLT look like?
- Who is driving improvement forward in your school?
- Are improvements happening quickly enough?
A review of physical resources and staff is key;
- Have you a healthy budget which may disappear if joining a MAT?
- Do you have a deficit budget which means joining a MAT may benefit you?
- Does your school need additional money to repair a leaky roof?
- Can you provide a strong and exciting CPD structure for your staff?
- How are you retaining talent?
- Is your local authority reducing in capacity?
- Has your LA withdrawn services recently or is there a change in cabinet due?
- Is your LA putting financial, or other, barriers in the way of schools wanting to convert to academy status?
- Are there any MATs you have heard good feedback about; are there any you would discount straight away?
- Are there other schools in the area looking to form a MAT?
Ensure that robust due diligence is sought at an early stage in relation to any MAT you consider joining, or about any other schools you are considering forming a MAT with. Once you have joined or formed your MAT, it is extremely difficult, some may say impossible, to leave. You become a part of a trust and you will lose elements of your autonomy and decision making.
Academisation and your Governing Body
It is important you keep academisation on your governing body termly agenda, even if it is just to review any recent news or briefings. A week in the education sector can mean you are thrown government curve balls to deal with. You need to stay informed; regular analysis of the above areas will ensure that if, or when, the time comes, you will be in the best position to make a final decision.
Your governing body and senior leadership team must keep the moral purpose of the school’s function at the forefront of any decision making process. Your decisions ultimately have to be about improving the lives and educational standards of the children and young people in your school and this has to be non-negotiable.
Academy Conversion First Steps
Our team at One Education have experience in supporting governors and senior leaders to make key decisions about academy conversion. If you would like an informal chat please get in touch. We provide a range of services to academies and can project manage the entire academisation process when the time comes.
We are currently offering a free, no obligation visioning session for headteachers, senior leaders and/or governors to be delivered either within or outside the school working day. The session includes:
- Differing options available in forming or joining a MAT
- Key considerations for leaders and governors
- Governance structures and models
- Key milestones and possible hurdles.
We have recently worked with Amanda Nicholson, Executive Principal at Oakwood Academy Trust, to deliver an open evening for schools across Greater Manchester; not just to raise awareness of the trust, but to share information about their academy conversion process - something Amanda was very passionate about. The evening was a great success. We have similar events coming up so please do get in touch for further details and to get involved.
Amanda Nicholson, Headteacher Oakwood Academy
The evening was a great opportunity for a variety of schools to come together and discuss the difficult issues around academy conversion and the serious decisions school leaders and governors are facing. One Education played a crucial role in providing a broad range of experts with legal, HR, Payroll, ICT, school improvement and financial backgrounds, who were able to support and offer expert advice.