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Academies and the White Paper – the Big Issues

Post Series: The White Paper

Perhaps the most controversial element of the White Paper is the stated aim that “By 2020, all schools will be academies or in the process of becoming academies; by the end of 2022, local authorities will no longer maintain schools”. Before May 2010 there were just 203 academies, by December 2015 the total sponsored and converter academies had reached 5,065. The majority of secondary schools have now become academies, however the vast majority of primary schools remain maintained.

In addition to its new powers to force “Coasting” schools that fail to improve to be taken over by strong sponsors, the DfE intends:

  • to introduce a new duty on LAs to facilitate all maintained schools to become academies
  • to take new powers to ensure schools convert faster in LAs which are under-performing or where the LA no longer has the capacity to maintain schools
  • to take steps to direct schools to convert if they have not started the process by 2020.

The DfE expects “most schools will form or join MATs” as this provides strong and resilient educational models that can be scaled allowing the “best leaders to run more than one school”. The belief is MATs can:

  • offering staffing and leadership benefits including improved career opportunities
  • facilitate structured and developmental teaching and curriculum provision
  • ensure robust governance
  • create efficient back-office arrangements

The facilitate this transition financial support will continue and a new MAT Growth Fund is to be established to support people and systems needed to enable effective groups.

The RSCs will in future intervene promptly where academies or MATs are underperforming to force MAT re-organisations and mergers, in this way the system will be dynamic, responding to success and failure

Comment

The Government chose to lead with the headline that all schools would become academies on Budget Day but must now be regretting this fact as it has received a strong reaction from across the political spectrum – Tory Councillors and MPs, the Teaching unions and associations and the opposition parties. However these protests may have come too late as the system may well be past the “tipping point” as conversion is underway in many schools and local authorities, already struggling with budget cuts, are (or have) disbanded their support teams or have cut them to a point where they are not viable over the medium term. A half way house solution is likely to be the worst of both worlds.

It is also important to remember that MATs are “Not for profit” organisations which have the potential to provide well informed, robust and effective structures for the delivery and development of strong educational establishments. Not all LAs have always helped their schools to be the best providers they can be.