Ministers have set out proposals to kick-start reforms to the school system as early as next half term, with plans to ramp up their academy efforts from 2023.
The Department for Education has announced it will create “strategic delivery plans” for every region and local area, setting out how it will reach its goal of full academisation, starting in 55 “education investment areas”.
Ministers have set a target for all schools to be in academy trusts, or in the process of joining or forming one, by 2030.
In its implementation plan for the 2022-23 academic year, the DfE also announced plans to trial local authority multi-academy trusts.
It follows the introduction of the schools bill in Parliament, which is expected to become law in time for the beginning of the 2023-24 academic year.
1. ‘Area commissioning’ and council-run MAT pilots
The government has said it will focus on its 55 education investment areas (EIAs) from September.
In these areas, the DfE will adopt an “area based approach to commissioning trusts”, which means it will work with trusts, councils, dioceses and other groups to encourage more schools to become academies.
New intervention powers for schools rated less than ‘good’ in their last two inspections will also be targeted at these 55 areas, pending the outcome of a consultation and Parliamentary vote.
Its other priority for 2022-23 will be “test and learn projects”, including a “small number” of local authority MATs “where they are needed”, or projects to respond to “local demand” or progress “at scale”.
2. ‘Engage early’, double-RI schools told
The DfE is advising schools with successive ‘requires improvement’ or below Ofsted ratings – that are in investment areas but not yet in MATs – to “engage early with regional teams in the department to discuss which trusts would be best to support the school”.
However, new regional directors will make the final decision.
The department said it would notify those schools eligible for intervention and “expect the LA, diocese, relevant religious authority or faith body and trust to work alongside us to identify a solution that can support rapid improvement”.
3. Trusts without capacity encouraged to merge
The government said it would focus on “strategic, not incremental, growth of strong trusts”, overseeing the movement of schools “in a way that is well planned and communicated”.
It will seek to identify trusts that can grow to support “vulnerable schools” beyond their own area and support them to grow at scale. The DfE will also identify where new trusts are needed and where there are sufficient strong trusts locally.
However, where trusts don’t have “capacity or space” for further growth, they should be encouraged to “focus on existing practice or join another trust”.
“Pragmatic decisions” on phases will be taken “as far as possible” so schools that share sites or are very close are working together.
4. ‘Strategic delivery plans’ for every EIA
In education investment areas, “initial regional planning conversations” will take place in the summer term of this year.
A strategic delivery plan for each area will then be published in the early autumn, which will set out the “key educational priorities” for MAT development in each area.
However, it appears the DfE has not yet settled on a name for these documents, as confusingly they are also referred to elsewhere in the guidance as “prospectuses”, “local area plans” and “area based plans”.
Existing trusts, dioceses and other faith bodies and groups of schools will then submit proposals to respond to the priorities set out in the plans.
The DfE said it would “learn lessons about local capacity, strategic planning and working at pace”, which can then be applied “across the country” from September 2023.
5. DfE seeks sympathetic councils for academies drive
In 2022-23, the DfE will also invite expressions of interest from councils and dioceses that want to “work with us to move at scale to a fully trust led system and who have secured the in-principle agreement of schools”.
LAs will also be able to include proposals for their own MATs in area-based plans, where there is “insufficient capacity of established strong trusts”.
6. New ‘discretionary fund’ for LAs and TCaF changes
The DfE has today announced plans for a new “discretionary fund”. This will support councils “in meeting the costs associated with the conversion of maintained schools where the scale of that activity is exceptional”.
A controversial move in the bill would grant councils the power to convert any or all of it schools into academies. While they will have to consult affected schools’ governors, councils only need consent if they are trying to move a foundation or voluntary school.
The trust capacity fund will also be changed to allow trusts to receive more than a single-year grant for the first time, in “recognition of the planning timeframe for larger projects”.
7. Trust ‘support’ projects
The government has also announced two new projects to “support” schools and trusts.
The first will involve the DfE working with external providers to deliver “events, learning sets, peer review, knowledge sharing, trust-to-trust support and challenge”.
The second, which was announced in the schools white paper, will be a MAT leadership development programme, available from 2023-24, but only initially in priority education investment areas.
8. Hub expansions for good trusts
The DfE said there were a “number of national trusts”, and those that work across “more than one region”.
Officials will “work with these trusts to continue developing strong localised hubs or clusters of schools”.
Regional teams will also “work to identify trusts which have the potential to grow beyond their region and to establish hubs in new regions”.
9. Tell us about ‘concerning’ trusts, LAs told
In its advice for local authorities and dioceses, the DfE said it would be asking local leaders to “engage with us in considering” the context of their area, where the trust strength lies and whether there are “trusts operating in your area that you have concerns about”.
The DfE “will be looking to work closely with partners to establish fit for purpose regional plans”.
“We expect the LA to play an active role in forming local plans, feeding in their knowledge and history of the area to create a future of strong families of schools.”