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The Times They Are a-Changin’

White Paper Report

The government’s education White Paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere is arguably going to herald the biggest change in the education landscape in this country since the widespread introduction of comprehensive schools in the 1960s.

The White Paper declares that all schools in England will be academies by 2022 and must have their plans in place by 2020.

Plenty of time to do your homework and make plans, right? Wrong.

All Headteachers and governing bodies are now in a footrace, whether they realise it or not, to ensure their school is in the best possible position to cope with the upcoming changes. There will be many who are vehemently opposed to the wholesale academisation of the schools estate, but to allow this to delay or get in the way of the planning that your school must do would be, in my view, a mistake.

Why Now?

There are risks to delaying. Our school could see no benefit to becoming an academy for three years. We kept a close eye on it and made the move in August 2014 when we could see the tide turning. We were adamant that we wanted to avoid the scenario where we were forced to convert and given a list of multi-academy trusts (MATs) that we could consider joining. If you leave it long enough this will happen to you. Don’t assume that it will include the local MAT whose Executive Headteacher or CEO you know well, as the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) now have a very careful balancing act to perform by ensuring that there are enough MATs out there to absorb all the schools converting whilst retaining the capacity of MATs to support their schools in a period of rapid expansion. Do you really want to find yourself in a MAT that doesn’t share your vision for the education of your students? Far better to be proactive and create something while you still can that retains the best of what is on offer in your local community or choose a MAT to which you know you are professionally aligned.

Small is Beautiful, But Not for the DfE

I often say to prospective parents that small is beautiful in our school. Everyone knows everyone else and I love being able to know each and every child really well. This isn’t the preserve of special schools. The same applies to small village primaries and to infant schools and we are the schools who are likely to be least well served by total academisation.

As far as the DfE is concerned small is expensive and small is inefficient. (Try telling that to the Headteacher of the village infant school who doesn’t have a caretaker and cleans the toilets every day). MATs mean economies of scale and this is likely to mean the end of the role of Headteacher as we currently understand it in a few short years. Expect a significant rise in the number of Heads of Schools – the lead professional for teaching and learning in a school, but without some of the business bureaucracy that can occupy a lot of our time currently – and the steady centralisation of some of the back office functions of schools such as HR, IT and finance. The role of Finance Director in MATs will become ever more important too.

So What Should I Do?

Start talking to your governing body about this now if you haven’t already. Governing bodies may well understandably be nervous about this. It can seem like their responsibilities increase significantly – they don’t – and this may hinder good decision-making.

Visit some existing MATs to see how things may work for you in reality. Ask how the MAT evolved over time, how they organise their governance, their leadership and their scheme of delegation. What freedoms do individual schools retain? How does the leadership of the MAT decide if it needs to intervene in a school – this is especially important if you are an infant school or special school with little externally validated performance information.

Get some really good legal and professional advice when you commit. Our academisation process was very smooth, largely down to excellent professional support that took the stress out of decisions, such as those regarding the Local Government Pension Scheme, that I initially felt ill-prepared to make.

Start talking to your fellow Headteachers to see where you all stand on the issue. Now is not the time for being coy. I have found this difficult to do as it can seem like empire-building, but as I said above, the footrace has started.

Good luck on your journey.