New literacy and numeracy targets will not be met if academy trusts “only operate in their own interest”, a senior Department for Education official has warned.
National schools commissioner Dominic Herrington, who oversees academies, said collaboration was key to hitting high-profile targets included in the schools white paper last month.
They include raising the percentage of children leaving primary school with the expected standard in reading, writing and maths from 65 per cent to 90 per cent, and improving average English language and maths GCSE grades from 4.5 to 5 by 2030.
But Herrington told the Schools and Academies Show in London today the government’s ambitions “will only be realised by trusts and partners and local authorities coming together”.
He highlighted the government’s ambition for all schools to be in or joining trusts by 2030, but added: “That cannot be a system where trusts only operate in their own interest”.
Herrington pointed to white paper plans for a new “collaborative standard” for trusts, mandating work with partners in their area. He also said DfE was “empowering” local authorities to champion children’s interests.
He admitted there had been “sometimes perhaps a bit of confusion about who adopts which role”, but said the white paper “sets that straight”.
DfE seeks to ‘minimise regulatory burden’
The DfE also wants to “minimise the regulatory burden” on trusts through an upcoming review, through an approach that is “risk-based” and promotes good practice.
The white paper said the review would begin in May, and Herrington said it would be “probably next month or this term”.
His comments mark a slight change compared to ministers’ recent statements and the white paper’s comments on the review. The white paper mentioned a “robust framework” for tackling failing trusts, and holding trusts accountable through inspection.
It comes after experts and trust leaders told Schools Week of their fears about greater regulatory burdens and academy freedoms being “consigned to history”.
Schools minister Baroness Barran, who also addressed sector representatives, similarly sought to reassure them new academy standards are “not about a monolithic model” and it is “not aiming for a uniform system”.
She sketched out the “five legs” of strong trusts, with a new definition in the pipeline. These were educational outcomes and inclusion, school improvement capacity, a strong, well-supported and resilient workforce, financial competence, and strong governance and leadreship.
Trusts bring ‘hope’ and ‘ambition’
Herrington praised the “beautiful diversity” of multi-academy trusts, and used most of his speech to sell the benefits of the MAT model. They bring “hope”, “energy” and “ambition”, acting as a “massive enabler” for professionals to come together.
Sir Alan Wood, a former government recovery adviser and ex-president of the Association of Directors’ of Children’s Services, told another SAAS event the white paper had been “underwhelming”, however.
During his work alongside recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins, who later resigned in protest at inadequate catch-up funding, “not one person spoke about school structures, and said it would be a good idea if there was further change”.
Joe Hallgarten, CEO of the Centre for Education and Youth, also told the panel debate the all-MAT drive was not “desirable or realistic”.
“The government lacks the legitimacy, leverage and to some extent love to make it happen.”
Steve Rollett, deputy CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, said he did not have a “fixation” with structures. But he said research suggests strong teaching made the biggest difference – and the trust structure can help “mobilise and scale that across the system”.