Academy trust expansion bids will be decided using “in-depth data” on school improvement and inclusivity, new commissioning guidance has revealed.
The document, published today by the Department for Education, has been dubbed a step towards increasing transparency around the growth of academy trusts.
It sets out how regional directors will attempt to assess “strategic need” and trust quality before ruling on academisation plans.
Academies minister Baroness Barran believes the new guidance will “support trusts to know how to grow and improve”.
“High-quality trusts are essential for building a strong and resilient school system that delivers the best possible outcomes for all children which is why we encourage all schools to be part of one,” she said.
“This new guidance will increase transparency around how commissioning decisions are made to support trusts to know how to grow and improve.”
Here’s what you need to know about the guidance…
1. Identifying high-quality academy trusts
Regional directors will “perform an initial assessment of financial performance and governance compliance for any trust under consideration for growth”.
The five pillars identified in the trust quality descriptors published in April will underpin decisions. They are high-quality and inclusive education, school improvement, workforce, finance and operations and governance and leadership.
The new guidance stated that evidence for each pillar will be broken down into “headline metrics” – drawn from MAT performance tables – which will then be used to “form a hypothesis about a trust’s quality”.
The hypothesis will then be tested by “in-depth data” and “qualitative evidence”.
“For example, regional directors may contextualise headline metrics with information about the percentage of pupils with English as an additional language or with SEND.
“A trust’s track record in school improvement adds to the picture, helping us to understand the trust’s ability to support schools. This will be explored using a headline metrics and verifiers.”
However, the DfE admitted it is still “working towards having headline metrics for all pillars”.
2. How does this apply to a special school?
The guidance stressed the same principles and processes apply to special schools and AP.
But regional directors “will look in particular for strong evidence of expertise in managing such specialist provision”.
“We also recognise the challenges in using traditional academic performance metrics to assess the quality of education provision in specialist and AP settings.
“This means a wider range of metrics and intelligence will be needed to ensure decisions meet the specific needs of the pupils of the school in question, for example Ofsted reports, post-16 destination and absence data.”
3. How academy order decisions will work
When an under-performing maintained school is issued with an academy order, regional directors will “prioritise identifying trusts with the expertise and track record in delivering high-quality and inclusive education”. They must also have the “capacity to rapidly transform performance”.
An initial longlist of chains working in the area or who are interested in taking on the school will then be compared using performance data.
When considering voluntary moves, regional directors “will look for evidence that any new school will be able to contribute to a clearly defined and effective strategy to improve and maintain” the trust.
“For the incoming school, the regional director will examine whether the trust is a good match to support it in addressing any developmental needs identified through Ofsted inspection reports or by the school itself.”
4. The guidance on transfers and mergers
Regional directors will look for evidence that schools proposed for transfer will be able to “contribute to a clearly defined and effective strategy to maintain and improve the performance of the incoming trust”.
Officials will then examine whether the trust is a good match to support the school in addressing any identified “development needs”, including from Ofsted inspection reports.
On mergers, regional directors will look at whether the proposed new structure is right for the schools and the areas they are in. It will also decide if the new trust can provide new opportunities and benefits to the schools and if there is a “clear leadership structure”.
For new free schools, the assessment process will confirm whether a trust is “in a position to grow” and that it is “well matched” to the proposed school.
5. Assessing the academy needs of areas
Regional directors will look at an area’s “pattern of educational provision” when assessing their strategic needs.
This will consider the need for high-quality trusts to grow, new trusts and understand specific local challenges, such as over-capacity or large numbers of small, rural schools.
They will also take into account “phase coherence” so schools located close to each other can work together and ensure feeder relationships between primaries and secondaries are understood.