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Educational “Excellence” Everywhere

As teachers and senior leaders return to school after the Easter holidays the news of the budget announcement and subsequent White Paper will have settled.  It is clear that the goal posts are continually shifting in this political hot potato and unfortunately the feeling that the teaching profession is being interfered with will continue. 

But just how to do the government propose to achieve the three E’s within the latest White Paper?  Helen Hirst sets out below a summary of the main points and some of the more subtle points which appear to have missed the media headlines:

Academies and the role of Local Authorities

  • By the end of 2020 all schools will become academies or be in the process of becoming academies. Where schools are not already academies or have not started the process by 2020, the Secretary of State will take steps to direct them to become academies.  By the end of 2022 Local Authorities will no longer maintain schools.
  • Despite the White Paper making clear that the role of Local Authorities in education will change by the end of 2022, it does however suggest that they expect that the most talented individuals from Local Authorities will leave their current employment and set up their own or join an existing multi academy trusts (MATs).  All new MATs are of course subject to approval by the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner.
  • Moving forwards Local Authorities will still manage admissions across their area and the Secretary of State will be seeking views on Local Authorities managing in-year admissions.  Local Authorities will also have duties to ensure that the needs of vulnerable pupils are met and acting as champions for all parents and families.

Parents

  • There will no longer be a requirement for elected parents to be on governing boards. 
  • Schools must have in place arrangements for “meaningful engagement” with all parents so that schools listen to their views and feedback, though it does not specify what form this will take. 
  • A new Parent Portal will be introduced in 2017 including details on the curriculum a child should have mastered by a particular age. 
  • Where parental complaints have not been resolved by the normal complaints procedures parents will be able to escalate the complaint to the Department for Education, and beyond that a public service ombudsman.

Governance

  • The appointment of Academy trust boards is to be entirely based on skill set.  Currently all of these positions are on a voluntary basis and so we expect recruitment of sufficient numbers of Members and Trustees will be difficult.  It will also bring in to question the issue of whether or not Trustees should be paid for their time.  The Secretary of State anticipates that most roles will remain unpaid however she acknowledges that there may be an increase in requests to the Charity Commission for authorisation of payment to attract the very best candidates for roles such as Chair of the Board.
  • The Secretary of State proposes introducing a competency framework for governance which will set out the core skills and knowledge for governance arrangements.  The content of this framework is yet to be produced.
  • There will be a database of everyone involved in governance as an extension of the existing Edubase and it is expected that schools will need to start providing this information from September 2016.  New legislation will be introduced so that the Secretary of State can bar unsuitable individuals from being governors in maintained schools, on a similar basis that the Secretary of State can already do so in academies and independent schools. 

Academy conversion process

  • Financial support for becoming an academy will continue and the Secretary of State will set up a MAT growth fund to help with the development of existing MATs who are growing.
  • Maintained schools will no longer be able to become foundation schools, therefore becoming an Academy is the only option.
  • Whilst MATs are the favoured model Single Academy Trusts (SATs) can continue in their current form provided they are “sustainable”.
  • The Secretary of State’s view is that the element of the Academy conversion process which slows up the process is the granting of the 125 year lease from the Local Authority (where this is applicable).  The White Paper suggests that to speed up the process the land will be transferred from the Local Authority to the Secretary of State, who in turn will grant a 125 year lease to the Academy Trust.  However, we do not believe this will speed up the process but will actually make the process more complicated.  In addition there is a suggestion that the Academy Trust may initially occupy the site under a tenancy at will, however from our experience this is likely to mean the completion of the 125 year lease will become more protracted if it happens after the Academy conversion date.
  • The ideal size for a MAT is considered to be 10 to 15 schools, though it does depend on pupil numbers.  The Department for Education will publish design principles for MATs, which will include the basis on which the Regional Schools Commissioners will approve applications for MATs and SATs.  Hopefully this will provide some long awaited clarity around the application process, which in our experience is the stage that can slow an Academy conversion down.

New schools

  • 500 new schools will be open by 2020 in the form of free schools and University Technical Colleges (UTCs).  The Secretary of State will have new powers to be able to require the use of Local Authority land for free schools.

Ofsted

  • There is however some relief in terms of Ofsted for headteachers or principals who are new in post.  The White Paper suggests that a poorly performing maintained school which is replaced by a sponsored academy, or where a new sponsor is needed, the school will not normally face inspection until its third year of operation.  Where a school (and it does not specify a particular type of school) is judged to require improvement and a new headteacher has been appointed then the school will not face re-inspection for around 30 months unless the headteacher requests an earlier visit.  At least this is some recognition for senior leaders that sometimes time is what is actually needed to be able to make school improvements.

Next steps

If you would like to discuss the White Paper or its implications for your school then please contact Andrew Hurst on 01274 306 000.  We can provide advice on the Academy conversion process, as well as establishing and joining a MAT.