July 2016


  • Puzzles in Wonderland?
    Despite an apparent climbdown over the White Paper, academisation for all is still very much on the government’s agenda. Leora Cruddas explains exactly what this means. More
  • Seats of power
    Emma Knights from the National Governors’ Association (NGA) explains the role of the scheme of delegation that every multi-academy trust must draw up to ensure its governance is on the right footing. More
  • Learning to lead
    As he steps down as a head, Paul MacIntyre reflects on the lessons he has learned about leadership and how to nurture the next generation of leaders. More
  • A friend in need...
    Dorothy Lepkowska meets people who have been supported by the ASCL Benevolent Fund (ABF) after their lives were overtaken by illness or personal tragedy. More
  • We are the champions
    Just how did ‘little Leicester City’ take on the footballing giants and prevail? And what lessons can the education world learn from this magnificent sporting achievement? More
  • Simply brilliant!
    In the realm of university destinations, social mobility is at a standstill. Teacher and Head of Higher Education Lucy Hemsley explores a scheme to bring the university experience to life for a wider range of pupils well before it is time to apply. More
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Despite an apparent climbdown over the White Paper, academisation for all is still very much on the government’s agenda. Leora Cruddas explains exactly what this means.

Puzzles in Wonderland?

The world of Whitehall and policy-making is indeed a Wonderland – it has its own rules, which are not easily understandable. In the last few weeks, we’ve had a White Paper promising compulsory academisation and then an announcement that looked at first glance like a climbdown.

It is certainly good that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has listened. And it is eminently sensible to drop the requirement for all schools to be academies. ASCL campaigned hard on this front. However, we need to look carefully at the detail of what is now being proposed.

The Queen’s Speech has made it clear that there will be an Education for All Bill “laying the foundations for educational excellence in all schools, giving every child the best start in life”. And the DfE has said that the bill will bring forward legislation to create new powers to convert all schools in under-performing or unviable local authorities (LAs).

So, while the government has decided that it is not necessary to legislate to bring about blanket conversion of all schools, the conversion of all schools within an LA will be triggered in two specific circumstances:

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

The devil is in the detail. Nicky Morgan has said that she will consult on the definitions of viability and the performance threshold. What is clear, however, is that the government remains committed to all schools becoming academies.

Mathematical puzzles

An asymptotic graph from Duncan Baldwin, ASCL Deputy Director of Policy, may help us to understand the possible outcome of this kind of proposed legislation. The term ‘asymptotic’ means approaching a value or curve arbitrarily closely.

So how close are we to a fully academised system? This depends on your perspective. Two-thirds of secondary schools are already academies but only one in five primary schools are currently academies. However, the DfE data shows that primary schools are grouping in multi-academy trusts (MATs) more quickly than their secondary counterparts are – in 2011, only 32% of primary academies were in groups but by 2015, this figure was 65%.

So, as more schools make the transition to academy status, there is inevitably a gradual decline in the ability of LAs to maintain their schools. This is likely to be exacerbated by further reductions to LA financial settlements.

A wrong question and a right question

How should we respond? Steve Munby, CEO of the Education Development Trust, writing in TES (6 May) outlined what he described as a wrong question and a right question. His ‘wrong’ question was: “Should my school become an academy or form a MAT?” We are not in the business of merely responding to government diktats.

I have slightly rephrased his ‘right’ question: “How can my school best collaborate with others in a strong and resilient structure to ensure that each child is a powerful learner and that adults have the opportunities to learn and develop as teachers and leaders?”

Another ‘wrong’ question may be: “Is there evidence that academies improve pupil outcomes?” Current evidence just does not allow us to draw firm conclusions on whether academies by themselves improve standards.

A better question would be to ask what groups of schools working together in deep partnerships with some form of obligation to one another may do that individual schools may not be able to do on their own. Could groups of schools be a positive force for change? The evidence, outlined in ASCL’s guidance on forming and joining a multi-academy trust, is beginning to suggest that the answer to this question is yes.

Whatever the vagaries of government policy, we must hold on to our values, our beliefs and our principles. These must guide us when we decide with our governors what the right decision may be for our schools.

A conundrum

For many, there is a point of principle in remaining part of an LA – the principle of local democratic accountability. There is also a strong sense of wanting to remain together as a group or family of schools – to shore up the system against fragmentation. But what if:

  • LAs renewed their social contract with citizens so that authorities saw their role as building human capital and critical infrastructure to help schools succeed – manage the local supply of teachers, create the housing infrastructure and connect social and education policy?
  • devolution agreements focused on these core functions?
  • groups of schools working together used current policy as an opportunity not to dismantle the comprehensive principle, but to renew it?
  • we used the opportunity to create powerful and sustainable groups of schools driven by collective moral purpose – an opportunity to create the education system at local level that we believe will be best for the children and communities we serve?

We may live in a strange world, a topsy-turvy Wonderland of policy – indeed as Alice says, “It would be nice if something made sense for a change.” But the leadership task is to create meaning – for our staff, our parent body and the communities we serve. As Fullan and Munby say in Inside-out and Downside-up, ‘we need leaders who do not just accept the context but act in ways that change the context’.

Over to you.

ASCL’s blueprint

In February 2015, just before the General Election, ASCL published Leading the Way: Blueprint for a self-improving system (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint). The blueprint is our White Paper. It is a vision for our education system written from the point of view of an imagined future.

At its heart is building capacity – our collective leadership capacity, our pedagogical capacity and, perhaps most importantly, the capacity for creativity, courage and action. And this is in spite of (or perhaps because of) the demands that are made on leaders and on the profession more generally.

Leading the change will involve a mindset – our education system is not composed of a series of givens by those outside the profession to which we are required to respond and by which we are constrained. Rather our leadership must be active, passionate and driven by our collective dedication and effort.

Further reading

Inside-out and Downside-up – http://tinyurl.com/jzhf97e

Leora Cruddas is ASCL Director of Policy and Public Relations