Unleashing greatness – getting the best from an academised system
Schools work in a competitive environment and have done so for many
years. It is not contradictory to argue for more powerful and eﬀective
collaboration to sit side by side with this. While there is a tension between
collaboration and competition, it can also be an energising one.
The evidence considered by the Commission suggests a more intensive
drive to develop professional connections, collaborative activity and
learning – both within and across schools – will generate fundamental
change across the school system. This is a model of autonomous schools
working in partnership to improve teaching and learning for them all. It is a
model that not only shares and improves practice across the system but also
has the potential for creating new and innovative practice. This represents a
cultural shift. It is already underway but needing more momentum through
a much tighter link with the process of academisation.
In an education system of autonomous and independent schools,
there are real beneﬁts to be gained from the government itself linking
improvement through collaboration more systematically to the
implementation of the academy programme. The Secretary of State
has already made clear his commitment to a school-led approach
to improvement in TheImportance of Teaching: the schools White
Paper,2010. His commitment includes promoting a range of initiatives
such as academy chains, Teaching Schools, the expansion of Teach First,
National Leaders of Governance, an increase in the numbers of National
Leaders of Education, the sponsorship of weak schools by strong
schools and the conversion of groups of primary schools to academy
status together. Tocontinue this school-led improvement drive would
require, for example, all converter academies to meet the expectations for
collaboration and school support set out in their applications to convert.
To further enable this cultural shift, the Commission feels that Ofsted
should not judge a school to be ‘outstanding’ for leadership unless it can
provide evidence of its contribution to system-wide improvement, such as
support for the improvement of another school.
The evidence considered by the Commission emphasised the
importance of school leaders themselves keeping a sharp focus on
education and learning within and across schools and on ensuring
adequate professional development. It also emphasised the importance
of teacher development linked closely to a culture of classroom
observation and peer learning. TheCommission believes this would
be well supported in Academies Mark IV by the establishment of an
independent Royal College of Teachers. The College could help make
the link between research and the classroom more explicit. Pump-primed
by the DfE, but completely independent from it, the College should have
the encouragement of school-to-school collaboration, including peer
challenge and support, as one of its keyobjectives.
The role of governors in an academised system is more important than
ever and needs to receive greater attention. Traditionally, governors have
been strong in providing support for the leadership of their school but,
with the increased autonomy and independence of academies, scrutiny
and challenge by governors become critical. The Commission’s evidence-
gathering suggests there needs to be a radical shift in their capacity,
knowledge and attitude if they are to take on both the leadership role
expected in an academised system and fulﬁl their legal responsibilities
The role of
governors in an
is more important
than ever and
needs to receive
asdirectors of charitable companies. The agreement between an academy
trust and the Secretary of State assumes a key role for the governors
in school improvement; this can be well supported by working with
governors from other schools.
The Commission recognises, in particular, that the knowledge, calibre
and independence of the Chairs of school governing bodies are extremely
important to school improvement and take on a new signiﬁcance in an
academised system. The Commission believes that the recruitment of
Chairs needs to be far more professional and rigorous. Chairs’ posts
should be advertised, as is widely the case with other public sector Board
roles, and schools should be expected to have at least one independent
person on the selection panel for a new Chair. In addition, any new Chair
should be expected to undertake formal training within six months of
Given the speed of academisation, the traditional role of the local
authority has changed but there is still a lack of clarity about any
new one. The government needs to consider this urgently as part of
its implementation of academisation. The Commission believes that
local authorities should hold the lead responsibility for planning
and commissioning suﬃcient school places to meet local need. The
Commission heard that the role of local authorities in this is far from
clear. Local authorities should also embrace astronger role in education
– not as providers of school improvement services but as guardians and
champions of the needs and interests of all children in the area. The
Commission believes that over a period of three years, local authorities
should phase out all their own provision of school improvement services
and devolve them to school-led partnerships.
Schools themselves increasingly need to take on the provision of
school improvement services to other schools. The Commission received
evidence from a number of active school-led partnerships which are
having demonstrable impact. Academies must be clear where they can
ﬁnd support when they need it. The Commission therefore encourages
the government to consider a more systematic approach to this as part
of its implementation of academisation. There is considerable interest
inschool-led improvement networks – sometimes involving other private,
public or third sector partners. These would not seek to replicate what
was available locally, for example, through teaching school alliances, but
would raise awareness of what was available and broker connections.
The Commission believes that the professional associations and teaching
unions would have much to contribute to the design and delivery of
such networks. They are uniquely placed to help improve and develop
schools and, in doing so, to ensure academisation and improvement are
Ensuring fairness and accessibility
Evidence to the Commission illustrated the impressive commitment
ofmany academies to social inclusion but this did not extend to all that
we saw. The Commission views social segregation in the school system
as a problem for equality of opportunity and to system improvement.
It heard, for example, of some academies willing to take a ‘low road’
approach to school improvement by manipulating admissions rather than
to take on the
provision of school
Overview and recommendations
Unleashing greatness – getting the best from an academised system
by exercising strong leadership. It is vital, as academies begin to assert
their independence more vigorously, that such practices are eradicated.
Ensuring excellent teaching and school-to-school collaboration is the
route to improve learning and raise achievement for all pupils, no matter
what their background.
In addition, in this transitional period, as the education system
becomes increasingly academised, there is a need to ensure a level playing
ﬁeld, one that does not favour one type of school over another. Parity
is particularly important in relation to funding and admissions, and in
supporting fair access to all schools, particularly for children with special
The Secretary of State needs to develop a system for admissions that
allows parents some independent recourse in terms of their relationship
with an individual school, or each academy trust, acting as its own
admissions authority. This is particularly important in terms of appeals.
The Commission therefore believes that academies and maintained
schools should be placed on a common footing regarding admissions
andshould operate within a framework of open and fair compliance.
The Commission urges the Secretary of State to identify the
organisation best placed to provide an independent appeals service
fordisputes over individual cases relating to admissions. Such a service
should be instigated and run in a quasi-judicial manner.
In the interests of demonstrating fairness and accessibility, the
Commission believes that each academy should publish comprehensive
data, including socio-economic data, about who applies to it and who is
admitted. This should have the eﬀect of providing moral impetus to schools
to maintain or adopt inclusive practice. The Commission suggests that
these data should be aggregated and analysed by the Oﬃce of the Schools
Adjudicator to identify any risks in terms of socio-economic segregation.
Ensuring accountability to pupils, parents,
Academies that take professional learning seriously understand their
accountabilities not only to parents and communities but also to pupils
and use this to raise standards. The Commission was persuaded by the
evidence it received that the greater independence of academies means they
have a greater responsibility for accounting to parents, other partners and
local communities. As the chief executive of a large academy chain argued:
‘If we want to retain our freedom to get ahead of our critics,
weneedtomake sure as a sector that we build a reputation for being
The Commission saw a number of examples where academies had
actively engaged parents and communities, not only in detailed discussion
about their children’s learning and achievement but also in contributing
to their review and evaluation processes. These academies considered
parents and families to be key partners in education.
However, the Commission also received evidence indicating that
academies were not always suﬃciently responsive to parents as partners.
Some parents told the Commission that they felt their views and
involvement in the school were no longer valued once it had assumed
academy status. In a fully academised system, as part of each school’s
moral and professional accountabilities, the importance of parents
and pupils needs to be recognised explicitly. All academies need to ﬁnd
innovative ways to understand and talk to parents, including those who
appear not to want to be engaged.
To support good accountability to parents and the local community,
the Commission believes there should be regular and formal reporting.
At academy trust level, this might be in the form of an annual report
underpinned with an open forum, held either in public or online,
encouraging broader discussion.
The Commission believes high standards of transparency and
accountability should apply to academy chains as much as to academies
themselves. This is particularly important to facilitate the more vibrant
entry into and exit from the education market by sponsors that the
Government would like to see.
To this end the Commission believes that the practice for appointing
sponsors, commonly known as the ‘beauty parade’, should be ended
and the DfE should design a selection process that is open, fair, rigorous
and supported by clear criteria. The Commission feels that funding
agreements for sponsorship should be reduced from seven to ﬁve years.
It also suggests that the Oﬃce of the Schools Commissioner should
be charged with producing an annual report which includes some
comparison of the performance of sponsors.
The education system in England has undergone almost continual change
in the post-war period. Academisation is one of the most signiﬁcant
structural transformations and such large-scale change requires detailed
attention to implementation if real and lasting improvement in pupils’
learning and achievement is to be achieved. If we have learned anything
about change over the past thirty years, it is that improvement is likely
to be both accelerated and sustained if there is broad ownership at local,
school and classroom level.
The recommendations that follow are designed to support
implementation and deepen transformation so that all children and young
people experience the beneﬁts of academisation.
The Commission’s recommendations, in response to the evidence
it considered, vary from the broad to the more detailed. Substantial
recommendations are highlighted below. They reﬂect the questions posed
by the Commission in its call for evidence in May 2012. These concerned:
• levers and barriers to school improvement within a totally
academised system and securing achievement for all pupils
• academies’ use of their freedoms
• the implications of an academised system on admissions
• the impact of diversiﬁcation and mass academisation on existing
academies and schools
• governance, accountability and due diligence.
Overview and recommendations
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested