Thursday, June 5, 2014
The Schools Commissioner for England has said he would like every school in Essex to join a schools trust.
Speaking at a conference in Colchester of head teachers and governors from across the county, Frank Green said academy trusts resulted in, “the quality of leadership and the quality of teaching being spread across the whole rather than being retained in one organisation.”
He added: “Personally, I’d like to see all schools in trusts, whether they’re in academy trusts or other kinds of trusts.”
Academy trusts are composed of multiple schools governed by a single governing body with greater independence from the local authority, schools can also form federations which combine multiple schools under one board of governors.
Mr Green, who ran a chain of academies for five years, rejected the idea that schools were being put under pressure to convert to academy status, and said a drive to have 5,000 academies in England before the general election was an aspiration rather than a target.
“We’d like to beat it,” he said. “But there is no pressure on schools to become an academy. If it’s 4,700 or 5,500, nobody is going to mind too much.”
The conference was mainly composed of educationalists in the primary school sector. Currently, only 16% of primary schools in Essex are academies, compared to 83% of secondary schools.
Also speaking at the event was Tim Coulson, director for education and lifelong learning at Essex County Council, who said the academies programme was the most “significant strategy” for improving educational attainment in Essex.
During his speech at the conference Mr Green, who took up the role of Schools Commissioner in February, admitted the evidence of improved attainment at academies was “not as overwhelming as we’d like to see”, but said this was because “good evidence that is pure and not subject to other factors is quite difficult to get”.
However he said schools which had been academies for three years had improved their attainment in English and mathematics by 12%, compared to 5% for maintained schools in the same period.
“When you get a group of schools together that group of schools can transform a whole community in a way that is not possible for individual schools to do,” he said.
Mr Green also added that it was no bad thing that some school governors were being left behind as academy trusts demanded a more “professional” approach to running schools.
“Actually you get a different kind of governor,” he said. “You’re changing governance from being a cottage industry to a much more professional, still voluntary process.”
One head of a primary school in Colchester, who asked not to be named, expressed scepticism about the academies project. “The money that’s promised doesn’t always cover conversion and then continuance on that theme,” he said.
“It works for some; I don’t think it’s going to work for others. I think it’s all contextually based. I think pushes are politically driven in the area of education where really politics should be out of it.”