Keeping up with the fastmoving world of education policy can feel like a full-time job at the best of times, but last year was a particularly unpredictable roller coaster ride. Within the space of a few months, schools were told they would all have to become academies; then that they would only have to convert if they were in an ‘underperforming’ or ‘unviable’ local authority. Things then changed again when it was announced that while full academisation “remains the government’s ambition”, it wouldn’t be compulsory for any school that was performing well. The vast majority of schools have welcomed these moves away from compulsory academisation. Without the threat of forced change, many leaders and governors are considering how academisation and formal partnerships might actually help them raise standards and operate on diminishing budgets. They’re using the time and space afforded by this policy shift to think carefully about their ethos, values and vision, assess their local landscape and consider the best way of safeguarding the future of their school. The ASCL recently worked with the National Governors’ Association and the education law firm Browne Jacobson to publish three new guidance papers aimed at supporting schools in thinking through their options. The papers explore the potential benefits of working in formal partnerships (such as federations and MATs), explain how academies and MATs are led and governed and summarise how effective federations and MATs operate. They also suggest a process for schools to follow when planning to join or form a MAT, the key points of which include…
1. Staying as you are doesn’t mean the landscape won’t change
Many schools are cautious about making any decisions at the moment, opting instead to wait and see what happens over the next couple of years. It’s entirely right for school leaders and governors to be wary of rushing into decisions they may later regret – but they also need to ensure they’re keeping an eye on how things are changing and regularly reviewing their plans.
2. Collaborate with other schools
While there’s little evidence to suggest that academisation in itself leads to better outcomes (and scant proof of this at primary, in particular). there’s a growing body of evidence that formal collaborations between schools can bring substantial benefits. These include opportunities to think strategically together, share expertise, recruit and retain staff more easily and Julie McCulloch is primary and governance specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders tackle budgetary challenges through collective purchasing and other economies of scale.
3. Your choice of partner is crucial
Joining or forming a MAT or federation is a big decision and one that’s very difficult to reverse, so it’s critical that you choose the right school to partner with or the best group to join. Important questions to ask of any existing or potential group of schools include:
- Does this group share my school’s ethos, vision and values?
- Does this group have the capacity to provide the support and challenge my school needs?
- How will the group be led and governed?
- Will being part of the group enable my school to improve and flourish?
Most school leaders and governors thankfully now have an opportunity to step off the roller coaster, consider such issues at their own pace and make their own decisions with regards to securing their school’s long-term future.