“When you have a decent local authority and broadly speaking have good schools and good leadership why on earth would you force people down this route?”

This is a response from a “normally loyal” Conservative MP to the insistence in the Education White Paper that all schools convert to academies by 2022.

I agree. We have all of these – a solid and effective local authority who has supported schools well enough so that we have good schools (no schools in MK are in category 4), and good leadership in both LA and in the school system.

The change can only be driven by money and ideology. Money if it’s Osborne talking. Ideology for everybody else in the party.

Except the “normally loyal” who are getting fed up with it, whether local councillors or MPs. Tory councillors in Oxfordshire, Trafford, Kent and Hampshire are all quoted in this piece from the BBC. It is a snapshot, but as so often with effective journalism, at least it asks the right questions. The fears are broad as well as practical – worries about small rural schools being closed in large money-hungry chains, as well as concerns that schools simply won’t be run a well. One councillor even worried about the anti-competitive nature of turning all schools into (literally) “state schools” – run directly by the state in Westminster. Others worry about parents losing their voice in the running of schools.

The mealy-mouthed folk of Sanctuary Buildings reply…

“To drive up standards we will encourage more schools to work together in multi-academy trusts so they share resources, staff and expertise.”

Translation: “standards is all we can think of as a motivation, but actually there’s going to be less money so let’s get you all together to make the most of what little we will be giving you”

Excellent advice on the academisation thing came out from Russell Hobby yesterday, and I have sent it to governors. This is the NAHT advice:

Universal academy conversion

Having reviewed the proposals in the White Paper and discussed their implications, NAHT can offer some recommendations for members.

We have nothing against voluntary academy conversion. If you were planning to convert, and remain confident in your direction, there is nothing in the paper to change your plans. You have our support.

There is inadequate detail about the shape of the system that might support schools in a world of universal academies. The resources and capacity to back this plan are unclear. This creates risks for smaller or isolated schools in particular but applies in some degree to all schools.

Therefore we recommend that, until the government has reconsidered its strategy, you do not initiate plans to convert to academy status against your will at this time. You will not be alone in this choice.

The deadline set by central government is four years away and much will change in this time. Nothing about this situation can be improved by rushing; much is to be gained by careful planning. Beware artificial deadlines imposed by others and beware those who see an immediate commercial opportunity.

However, it is clear to us that the ability of most LAs to offer traditional support will diminish rapidly.Regardless of the status of your school, you should seek or build a strong local collaboration now. There are many models for doing this which are unrelated to the legal status of your school.

By building a collaboration with the ability to commission and share services you can achieve the following:

  • Preserve what you value about the current local arrangements
  • Work in partnership with trusted local authority staff
  • Develop and embed the ethics you believe should govern the education system, including the principles of public service, integrity and collaboration
  • Support colleagues and protect yourself from isolation.

Such a model can survive and adapt whatever the changes ahead. We are gathering case studies on where schools are doing this already and will distribute them to members. Be sure to communicate your plans with colleagues and the community.

Some local authorities may seek to work with their schools to establish trusts and groups which preserve existing relationships. There may be merit in these plans and they are worth exploring. We believe they are permitted under the white paper proposals but are seeking additional clarification.

To reiterate, the task of building strong collaborations should begin early – ignoring the new landscape entirely will not help and risks isolation. The task of academisation itself is a distraction that can wait.

This is excellent advice and I will take it and urge others to do so. In the meantime, there is a holiday to be enjoyed.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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