The next steps for reforming England’s school system

We recently attended the Westminster Education Forum’s event on the Next steps for reforming England’s school system, held on 19 October.

Please see below the key points from Key Note speaker, Sir David Carter.

Some MATs schools have thrived with greater autonomy whilst others were left feeling isolated; many schools that converted to single academy trusts are now leading MATs or are sponsors themselves.  However there are also quite a few who have slipped back either with their Ofsted judgement or in their overall performance.

School improvement

School improvement has three strands: -

Diagnosis – what is the most important aspect that needs to be fixed? This allows the school to focus all efforts in that one area until there is improvement.

The commissioning process – have we got the right focus, have we got the right people driving the change? Can the school take on the additional help? “Sometimes too much help is no help.”

Accountability – lots of teaching schools provide great school to school support but there is no current analysis as to whether it made a difference at all. Schools shouldn’t be exempt from accountability as some schools put up barriers to change.

Failing MATs

The explanation given for the failure of earlier MATs that they grew too fast too soon is a “myth” stated Sir David. Prior to giving three specific reasons why they did fail:

  • The same degree of autonomy was given to outstanding schools and special measure schools.
  • They didn’t have a school improvement strategy for their trust; nowadays MATs wouldn’t be approved without one.
  • Some schools in the MATs were too far away from one another; schools need to be close enough to function and add capacity together.

Support

It’s vital for every school to be a giver and receiver of support; there’s often more to learn from teachers who have taken schools from special measures to good than those who have taken schools from good to outstanding.

Sir David Carter supports the academisation of all schools but is happy that there is no longer a specific timeframe for schools to administer the change. Stating that the focus for RSCs should be to improve schools not just to implement change.

RSCs will provide ongoing support for underperforming schools: -

  • Schools will be required to show their action plan and demonstrate what work is being conducted. In extreme cases RSCs will have to re-broker single academy trusts to MATs or underperforming MATs will be found new sponsors.
  • The second role for RSCs will be to make decisions on advice given by Headteacher boards. This means that the RSC will have full accountability for decisions on the school’s improvement.
  • The third aspect for RSCs is to make sure that there is sponsor capacity and that MATs can demonstrate they have the capacity for school improvement.

The future

There are more MATs being formed than ever before but it’s important to grow capacity of the system with care. In the next 4 to 5 years the most important thing will be to get the right balance between growing capacity and improving schools. Around 50% of sponsored academies are improving, which is “quite an achievement” considering they all became sponsored academies because they were in special measures.

Sir David Carter explains how there is a clear need to think constructively about how the education system can all fit together. This is even more pertinent given the post white paper divide between those in favour of autonomous schools and those who prefer local authority maintained schools.

Standalone academy trusts have an absolute role to play in growing the capacity of the system but it’s getting “tough” as viability and sustainability isn’t just down to financial aspects, it’s also is down to educational matters. So more standalone academies are now joining MATs or forming MATs.

To view Sir David Carter’s accompanying PowerPoint presentation please, click here.