Today’s annual report by HMCI Amanda Spielman covers a lot of ground, but let’s pick up here on one important section that shows starkly the flaw in the government’s policy of compulsory academisation.
The report points out that the turnaround rates for underperforming schools remain too slow and that a lack of sponsor capacity means some schools have been left in limbo for more than 18 months before joining a multi-academy trust.
It argues that the current “halfway-house approach” to academisation is not working and calls for incentives to be reinstated to encourage the best schools to become academies and use their expertise to sponsor.
“Simply put, without more good sponsors, the DfE’s ambition to support failing schools will not be realised,” says the report.
Ofsted is right that there is a real problem in matching schools with sponsors and that this is leading to waits which are unacceptably long. But its solution [to give trusts more incentives] surely isn’t the only game in town.
A simple solution
The problem here is a simple one. The government has insisted that the only route for schools judged as inadequate is compulsory academisation, but there isn’t actually enough capacity in the existing network of multi-academy trusts to provide sponsors in all cases.
Similarly, there is an equally simple solution. The government should drop the requirement for compulsory academisation.
There is an equally simple solution. The government should drop the requirement for compulsory academisation
Sponsored academisation should certainly be one option available to struggling schools, but it should be considered alongside a range of other ways in which the school could be supported.
The key here is not who oversees the school, but how the support needed by the school can best be delivered.
This approach would have the benefit of unblocking the current logjam in the system and make it less likely that schools which most need support are left in limbo.
The problem is political
The problem for the government is a political one. Its policy of compulsory academisation is part of an agenda to evolve the system in this direction and ministers will be reluctant to perform a U-turn.
But they need to face up to the fact that we have a mixed model and accept the reality that we need pragmatic solutions rather than ideological ones.
It puts too much strain on an evolving system to insist that it is the only solution to providing support to struggling schools.
And these schools and their communities should also have a greater say in the process. The provision of support should be a dialogue between all parties.
These schools need the security of long-term strategic support to enable sustained improvement
The current situation just isn’t acceptable. We can’t continue to have schools and their pupils facing up to 18 months of uncertainty while the DfE attempts to implement a policy which flies in the face of reality.
Long-term strategic support
These schools need the security of long-term strategic support to enable sustained improvement.
The chief inspector said today that some young people have the deck stacked against them. It’s a fair bet that a proportion of these children will be in schools struggling to find sponsors.
The last thing they need is the obstacle of an unnecessary and politically driven policy which is actively holding back the prospects for school improvement.
We have had several years now in which far too much emphasis has been placed on the structure of schools.
We need to redress the balance and put the focus back on what is needed by children and young people. Whatever works best in delivering school support is the right solution.