When the topic of academies makes the news headlines it always seems to be for the wrong reason.
At the time of writing, education headlines have been dominated by controversies related to ‘related party’ transactions, terminated funding agreements and allegations of false claims for building and maintenance grants.
Perhaps more significant, has been the current BBC2 documentary series ‘School’, which follows the struggle of a small multi-academy trust in South Gloucestershire to keep its schools afloat in the face of decreasing budgets, falling rolls and challenging Ofsted inspections.
It’s a bleak watch at times, but the overwhelming picture is of a group of professionals operating from a strong moral purpose in the interests of young people and families against what at times seem to be insuperable odds.
The transparency and honesty of these trust leaders and senior staff in their schools run counter to what is often the tabloid perception of academisation.
In reality, this is the approach adopted by the vast majority of MATs, stand-alone academies and their school leaders and, of course, by those responsible for all those schools still maintained and supported by local authorities.
In January 2018, 72% of secondary schools and 27% of primary schools were academies; altogether an estimated 47% of pupils are now taught in academies and free schools. So, where is the academy movement going next?
In 2016 the government drew back from legislation which would have compelled all schools to become academies by 2022, although academisation remains the default solution for schools which continue to provide an inadequate education for their pupils. For the foreseeable future, there is still going to be a ‘mixed economy’ of education provision in our country.
Our conference recognises that the challenges we now face will be most successfully addressed when, whatever the status of our school, we can work together in partnership. There will still be a role for local authorities – indeed, perhaps the greatest challenge is how schools can work together to support our communities, especially those serving the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families.
Our Academies and School Leaders Conference has brought together the best possible group of MAT and school leaders to address these issues, from the future of academisation itself, through the realities of managing diminishing finances to practical school improvement strategies. We are also delighted that Sean Harford, National Education Director at Ofsted, will be joining us to explain the new Ofsted framework.
By David Birch, School Improvement Advisor and Independent Consultant
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