April 2017

The know zone

  • On your marks...
    A race around the park provides Dennis Richards with some gentle exercise and a golden opportunity to catch up on the latest thinking on pupil attainment… More
  • Halfway there
    Last December, the government finally released the second stage of the consultation on the national funding formula (NFF). So was it worth the wait? Julia Harnden says more funding must be invested in education for the formula to be a success. More
  • Minds matter
    Every week there is a new report or story in the media about the worsening mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Here, Anna Cole highlights how leaders can develop a whole-school approach to deal with mental health and wellbeing. More
  • Mental health and wellbeing
    The government wants to offer schools in England mental health first-aid training and is looking at how to strengthen links between schools and the NHS. Have you seen a rise in mental health issues in young people in your school or college? Have you had any experience of accessing local specialist NHS services to help pupils? Here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Real-world opportunities to inspire students
    Focus on… Youth Grand Challenges More
  • Adding value
    Embracing new ways to communicate More
  • Stay in control
    Julie McCulloch highlights new guidance for schools considering joining or forming a multi-academy trust (MAT) and explains how you can stay in control of your school’s destiny. More
  • Leaders’ surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
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Julie McCulloch highlights new guidance for schools considering joining or forming a multi-academy trust (MAT) and explains how you can stay in control of your school’s destiny.

Stay in control

Last July, ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas wrote an article in Leader (https://tinyurl.com/ze4wgkf) describing the topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland-esque landscape in which schools have to operate. Within the space of a few months, schools had been told they would all have to become academies, and then that they would only have to do so if they were in an ‘underperforming’ or ‘unviable’ local authority. Since then, the policy position has shifted again, with the government stating that, while it “remains [their] ambition that all schools ultimately benefit from the autonomy and freedom to innovate and to meet the needs of their community that academy status brings”, there will be no compulsory academisation for any school that is performing well.

Curiouser and curiouser. So what does this mean for schools and, particularly, for primary schools, only a quarter of which have become academies so far?

The vast majority of schools have welcomed the move away from compulsory academisation. With the threat of being forced into a change now having receded, many school leaders and governors are considering what role academisation and formal partnerships may play in helping them to address challenges such as raising standards and operating on diminishing budgets. They are using the space and time that the shift in policy has afforded to think carefully about their ethos, values and vision, to find out more about how their local landscape is changing and to consider the best way to safeguard the future of their school.

ASCL, working with the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and education law firm Browne Jacobson LLP, recently published three new guidance papers to support schools in thinking through their options. These papers explore the potential benefits of working in formal partnerships (such as federations and MATs), outline how academies and MATs are led and governed, summarise what we know so far about how effective federations and MATs operate and suggest a process for schools to follow when considering their options or planning to join or form a MAT.

Key issues for school leaders and governors to consider are:

1. Staying as you are isn’t staying as you are

Many schools are cautious about making any decisions at the moment, and are waiting to see what happens over the next couple of years. This is completely understandable, particularly given the number of policy changes in this area. It’s important to recognise, however, that the landscape is continuing to shift around you. It’s completely right that school leaders and governors don’t rush into any decisions they may later regret – but they need to ensure that they’re keeping an eye on how things are changing, and regularly reviewing their plans.

2. The case for collaborating with other schools is becoming stronger

There is no evidence to suggest that academisation in itself leads to better outcomes for children and young people and such evidence is even more scant in the primary sector. There is, however, a growing body of evidence that formal collaborations between schools (through coming together as MATs or federations) can bring substantial benefits (see guidance papers below). These include the opportunity to think strategically together, to share expertise, to recruit and retain staff more easily and to tackle budget challenges through collective purchasing and other economies of scale.

3. Choosing the right partners is crucial

Joining or forming a MAT or federation is a big decision and one that is very difficult to reverse. Choosing the right schools to partner with, or the right MAT or federation to join, is therefore critical. Important questions to ask of any existing or potential group of schools include:

  • Does this group share my school’s ethos, vision and values?
  • Does this group have the capacity to provide the support and challenge my school needs?
  • How is the group (or will the group be) led and governed?
  • Is the group (or the schools planning to form the group) in a strong and sustainable financial position? If not, how do they plan to tackle this?
  • Do you think being part of this group would enable your school to improve and flourish?

Most school leaders and governors now have the opportunity to consider these issues at their own pace, and to make their own decisions about the right long-term future for their schools. We hope that this new guidance will help.

ASCL guidance and consultancy:

Guidance papers for schools considering joining or forming a MAT can be downloaded at www.ascl.org.uk/guidanceASCL Professional Development offers a bespoke consultancy to schools or groups of schools embarking on this process – email consultancy@ascl.org.uk

Julie McCulloch is ASCL Primary and Governance Specialist