White paper: Academy reforms rest on regulator role, say leaders

Ex-DfE aide: 'If the regulator isn’t set up in the right way, nothing else is going to work'

Ex-DfE aide: 'If the regulator isn’t set up in the right way, nothing else is going to work'

1 Apr 2022, 15:00

More from this author

Limited details over new standards for academy trusts and tougher “statutory intervention powers” are the “biggest question mark in the whole paper”, says a former government adviser.

Ministers have faced a delicate balancing act in their academy push amid pressure for tougher action on failing trusts, but lower regulatory burdens on the rest.

But Sam Freedman, a former adviser at the Department for Education now at Ark Schools, said scarce details left regulatory reform “the biggest question mark in the whole white paper”.

He told an ArkTalks event this week: “If the regulator isn’t set up in the right way, nothing else is going to work.”

Sam Freedman

The white paper says a regulatory review in May will look at “how we will hold trusts to account through inspection”, and ensure a “single regulatory approach”.

The review will consider how to hold trusts accountable against new criteria for a “strong trust” – including high-quality, inclusive education, school improvement, maintaining local school identity, value for money and workforce development.

Standards will be underpinned by “new statutory intervention powers”, allowing “robust” action on trusts not achieving expected outcomes.

Martyn Oliver, the chief executive of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said the white paper was “full of good intent”, but added: “Everything will now hinge on the role and powers of the regulator.”

Academy intervention powers ‘weak’

A recent report from Freedman criticised “weak” intervention powers over low education standards. The DfE has been accused of lacking teeth over past academy financial scandals too.

Paul Heery, the chief executive of The White Hills Park Trust, agreed trusts needed more “transparent” accountability, after criticism of high pay, related party deals and exclusion practices.

But Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said the DfE must not “compromise” trusts’ independence, or determine operational procedure.

Evelyn Forde

Evelyn Forde, the head of the single-academy Copthall School in north London and the vice-president of the school leaders’ union ASCL, said she felt a “sense of exhaustion” at the idea of further new standards, warning it risked undermining autonomy and creativity.

Michael Pain, the founder of the MAT support company Forum Strategy, said over-prescriptive definitions risked being a “straitjacket”, with academy freedom “consigned to history”.

Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, said he hoped standards would reflect partnership, rather than a “master-servant relationship”.

The “proliferation” of existing rules has already faced criticism, with Freedman highlighting regulations on the numbers of committee meetings.

Writing for Schools Week, Sir Jon Coles of United Learning, argued reforms should reduce the “extent and burden of process regulation”, but “weak provision must be tackled”.

It was “right to seek consensus built on evidence”, which showed “confident, not weak government”.

More from this theme

Academies, Politics

Zahawi under fire over ‘misleading’ academy claims

Education secretary faces calls to 'correct the record' in Parliament after officials admit academy comparisons could mislead

Freddie Whittaker
Academies, Politics

DfE to correct academy claims after stats watchdog slapdown

Statistics regulator warns over 'transparency, quality and replicability' of data in 'case for a fully trust-led system' document

Freddie Whittaker
Academies, Ofsted

‘Vindicated’: Academy trust first to have termination notice withdrawn

Decision draws to a close a years-long saga which also led to the dismissal of an Ofsted inspector

James Carr

Councils start school talks over spin-off academy trusts

LA tests the water on plan for 'a number of local authority sponsored multi-academy trusts'

Freddie Whittaker
Academies, Schools Bill

Schools bill: New academy standards could dictate trust board make-up

Analysis: Draft law seeks greater control over school system, with standards on pay and school day length also considered

Freddie Whittaker
Academies, Schools

Queen’s Speech to announce new academy intervention powers

Schools bill to implement white paper reforms will be introduced in the next year

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.