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Does today’s academies announcement make any difference?

Please find a brief summary of this afternoon’s developments around government policy on conversion to multi-academy trusts.

This certainly marks somewhat of a shift (or dare we say it, ‘U-turn’) in rhetoric. However, those who see today’s announcement as being the nail in the coffin of the government’s vision for universal academisation must consider that policy can also be driven by behavioural change and necessity as well as legislation. Indeed, today’s press release did not back down on that vision, reaffirming its ‘continued determination to see all schools to become academies in the next six years.’

With the proposed reduction in Local Authorities’ funding and school improvement responsibilities still very much being pursued, it will be imperative that all schools forge or join high quality partnerships in the near future. In the post-2018 world it is highly likely – given the support and funding they will receive from government – that only school-led partnerships will be able to support, access and deliver the quality and breadth of school improvement provision and services that schools require.  Indeed, it is Multi Academy Trusts – as well as a handful of innovative Teaching School Alliances (many of which are aligned with MATs) – that are best placed to provide the school-led improvement envisaged in the white paper.

Being active participants within values-based, high quality partnerships will also be essential to schools ensuring the successful recruitment and training of high quality teachers and achieving the economies of scale required in a much tighter funding landscape. Both are major issues right now – and are all set to become bigger in the months and years ahead (see our previous blog on recruitment). These issues will be key drivers for many schools considering joining a multi-academy trust.

So, will high-performing maintained schools see their best avenue for accessing quality partnerships and provision as being through membership of a MAT or through other forms of partnership? Ultimately, with so many ‘outstanding’ schools having already created or joined multi-academy trusts, and so many other schools set to follow suit, the money must be on multi-academy trusts as being the option of choice in an system that will otherwise feel quite fragmented and difficult for individual schools to interact with. The key question for many good and outstanding schools currently considering conversion is whether the MATs they are consider joining or forging can deliver values-led, high quality and impactful partnerships that make a real difference to children’s outcomes in a changing, uncertain and more competitive world. That is the important question that seems to have been overlooked in recent months.

We hope the summary below is useful.
Government will not bring in legislation for ‘blanket conversion’ of all schools to academies

The DfE has announced that it will not bring about legislation to bring about the blanket conversion of all schools to become academies. Whilst reaffirming its ‘continued determination to see all schools to become academies in the next six years’ a government press release on Friday afternoon confirmed that for “high-performing schools in strong local authorities the choice of whether to convert will remain the decision of the individual schools and governing bodies in question.”

It confirmed that:

· it “will continue to require underperforming schools to convert to academy status where they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor.”

· one hundred and four directive academy orders have already been issued to underperforming schools in the last month since the new legislation (the Education and Adoption Act) came into force.

· The DfE will support ‘good’ schools to convert and to take the lead in supporting other schools as part of multi-academy trusts. In the last monthly figures 227 schools put in applications to convert, the highest monthly figure since the programme began, and we expect this rate to increase.

In addition, the government will bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in 2 specific circumstances:

• firstly, where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted. Under this mechanism a local authority will also be able to request the Department for Education converts all of its remaining schools
• secondly, where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement

These measures will target those schools where the need to move to academy status is most pressing.

The full press release can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/next-steps-to-spread-educational-excellence-everywhere-announced

May 6, 2016