Category Archives: academies



No formal moves yet  but in practice chains are being scrutinised

When will Ofsted formally inspect Academy chains? After all, Sir Michael Wilshaw seems to be in favour of chain inspections.  The truth is that Ofsted is already pretty much on the case. Witness Ofsteds   treatment of the E-ACT  chain .It was  subjected to what was   termed a’ focused inspection’, although  it was, in effect, a chain inspection, in all but name  . Ofsted inspects academy chains currently through what it calls ‘batched inspections of schools within chains’. Ofsted, of course, has previously inspected a group of academies within the AET chain. The AET approach in the eyes of ministers is seen as  effective ,  so there are no plans to widen Ofsted’s role, for example,  in   inspecting  chains head offices.  But for how much longer? Particularly as the government itself is expressing concerns over some  of the chains’ impact on outcomes,( a minority it has to be said), and the  apparent unwillingness  of some to innovate ,  while  concurrently preventing some chains from  expanding (around 14 at the last count).

Ministers though look unlikely to budge on this, and believe that Ofsted is doing more than enough at the moment , combined with the DFEs own efforts ,to hold chains  properly to   account without burdening them with more red tape.






Partnership grows out of partnership

And Partnerships  are improving outcomes in Lincolnshire

CfBT Education Trust has just published a research report  ‘Partnership working in small rural primary schools’ .

Robert Hill and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) were commissioned  to investigate the most effective ways for small rural primary schools to work together in order to improve provision and raise standards. The project sought to examine the circumstances and context of small rural schools in Lincolnshire and evaluate their different leadership models (such as collaborations, federations, partnerships or academy chains) to:

identify successful approaches to collaboration likely to have a positive impact on pupil achievement

identify barriers to successful collaborative models

understand the role of the local authority in enabling effective partnership

place the Lincolnshire approach in the context of approaches being adopted in other areas in England and best practice in partnership as identified in research literature

identify issues and recommendations for policymakers to consider.

The report provides three sets of ten lessons for schools, policymakers and local authorities.

As well as the main report of findings there is a secondary report composed of supporting materials which is also available to download.

Although the researchers looked specifically at partnerships involving small schools, which have their own distinctive challenges ,some of the lessons learnt will be of interest  and utility to secondary schools.  The authors do not think that academisation and the establishment of teaching schools will , by themselves, address the problems and challenges facing small primary schools. There are 4,000 schools in England with fewer than 150 pupils and 1,400 with fewer than 75.

CFBT Education Trust provides school improvement support in Lincolnshire  and the report states ‘Lincolnshire provides a test-bed for how far it is possible to foster partnership working, address previous obstacles and build a school-to-school improvement model for small rural  schools’

 Ten Lessons for schools:  

Build on existing partnerships and relationships

Keep local partnerships geographically focused

Ensure that head teachers leading a collaboration develop strong relationships, shared values and commitment to each other

Be clear about governance, funding and accountability

Involve middle leaders in the leadership of partnerships

Use business plans and action plans to prioritise what partnerships will do together

Use action plans to prioritise and clarify what partnerships will do together.

Focus partnership activity on improving teaching and learning through teacher-to-teacher and pupil-to-pupil engagement and learning – including the use of digital contact between staff and pupils.

Focus any dedicated resources on providing dedicated leadership or project management time to organise activity and/or cover transport costs.

Be prepared to engage in multi-partnership activity and for the form and membership of partnerships to evolve over time.

Monitor and evaluate the impact of partnership activity


Ten lessons for local authorities:

 Provide a clear vision of the future in terms of school-to-school working.

Be flexible about the structural arrangements for partnerships but encourage a direction of travel   that moves to more structured arrangements – and formalise the arrangement, whatever form it takes.

 Expand the use of executive headship, using soft influence and hard levers (for example, intervening when schools are failing or struggling to recruit a new headteacher) to reinforce the growth of local clusters and the recruitment and retention of high quality school leaders.

Insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success – which they track and monitor

Focus any allocation of ring-fenced resources on providing some dedicated leadership or (start up) project management time to coordinate partnership activity and/or cover transport costs.

Reinforce a partnership strategy by the way that other policies on areas such as children’s services and place planning are framed and implemented.

Use simple practical initiatives to help foster partnership depth – such as time at headteachers’  briefings for cluster heads to work together, appointing the same professional link adviser to all the  schools in a partnership and enabling partnerships to jointly procure CPD.

Identify headteachers to champion the strategy, build ownership among their peers and provide a guiding coalition for change.

Support networking and communication between schools and partnerships through newsletters,  micro-websites and conferences.

Stick with the initiative – recognising that elements of the programme will evolve and that the full benefit will take time to come through.

Ten lessons for policymakers:

Set a clear, consistent vision and strategy for primary schools – and small primary schools in particular – to work together in small clusters but without being prescriptive on the form it should take.

Recognise in the way that policies are developed that schools are likely to engage in partnership with other schools on a number of different levels.

Affirm the role of local authorities in steering and enabling clusters to develop and grow.

Work with faith bodies to encourage and facilitate cross-church/community school partnerships.

Aim to develop 3,000–4,000 executive leaders of primary schools and provide a career path and training and development to match this ambition.

Encourage governors to work and train together across clusters, and encourage moves towards exercising governance at cluster level through federations, trusts and multi-academy trusts.

Reinforce the strategy of cluster working by enabling school forums to allocate lump sums to clusters as well as to individual schools.

Communicate the value of partnership working to parents and the wider world in order to provide more support for the efforts of small schools in developing partnerships.

Ensure that the accountability regime balances the competitive pressures among schools to recruit pupils with measures that value partnership working.

Evaluate the impact of partnership working at national level and provide tools to help schools assess the impact of partnership initiatives.

 There is a spectrum of partnership models in evidence. This ranges from loose, informal collaboration between schools, through informal collaboration underpinned by a memorandum of understanding , to more  formal collaboration, for example, including  a management agreement with an executive head, and on to a Federation or multi-  academy trust with  executive head teacher  and single governing body.

 Of the 99 small schools in Lincolnshire just 7 are in no form of collaborative arrangement.

As far as outcomes are concerned, the report says ‘Identifying the impact of Lincolnshire’s partnership programme is both difficult and easy. It is relatively easy to establish whether there has been progress and improvement but much more difficult to be sure about the causes for that improvement. There are three useful sources of evidence that deal with the first issue – whether there has been improvement.’

‘In 2009 the performance of pupils in small schools was significantly below that of their  peers in larger schools and was lagging behind the national performance.(As   measured by the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and mathematics (and, for  2013, in reading, writing and mathematics). However,  in  2012 pupils in the  smallest schools were matching the national benchmark and also the achievement of the largest  schools in Lincolnshire. In 2013 results indicate that small schools were just above both the national performance level and the average for other groups of Lincolnshire schools – apart from those with  181 to 270 pupils.’

Second, the number of small primary schools with fewer than 90 pupils falling below the government’s  floor target for primary schools fell from over 20 to single figures in 2012 and to just one in 2013. This is despite the threshold for the floor target having been raised twice during this period.

Third, the Ofsted inspection outcomes of the smallest primary schools inspected during the school years 2011/12 and 2012/13 show significant improvement. The number of ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’  (respectively Grade 1 and Grade 4) small rural schools in Lincolnshire has remained the same but  there has been a sizeable reduction in the number of ‘satisfactory’/’requiring improvement’ (Grade  3) schools and a corresponding increase in the proportion of ‘good’ (Grade 2) schools. The 65 Lincolnshire schools, taken as a group, have moved from having inspection outcomes that are much  poorer than other primary schools in England to having, on average, better inspection outcomes. ‘

Partnership working in small rural primary schools: the best of both worlds Research report Robert Hill, with Kelly Kettlewell  and Jane Salt-April 2014



Lincolnshire has 21 Special schools, 276 Primary schools and 59 Secondary schools, including 83 Academies. In addition, Lincolnshire remains one of the few areas in the UK to retain Grammar Schools and there are also a range of Primary and Secondary schools provided by the independent sector. CfBT Education Trust  took responsibility for school improvement in Lincolnshire in 2002 and since then the performance of schools and settings has shown sustained improvement year on year.

In 2012, CfBT won the Education Investor award for ‘Best School Improvement Service’ for its work in Lincolnshire.


 Some Academy expansion put on pause 

According to the government ‘The number of approved sponsors with open academies that have been restricted is reviewed regularly in the light of the latest assessment of performance. At 27 February 2014, 14 sponsors were restricted in full from sponsoring new academies or free schools out of a total of over 350 approved sponsors that currently support academies.

They are:

1. Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)

2. Academy Transformation Trust (ATT)

3. Barnfield Academies Trust

4. City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust

5. Djanogly Learning Trust

6. E-ACT

7. Grace Foundation

8. Landau Foundation

9. Lee Chapel Academy Trust

10. Prospects Academies Trust

11. South Nottingham College Academy Trust

12.The Learning Schools Trust

13. University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT)

14. West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership

There are other sponsors that have decided to consolidate their growth, preferring to focus on improving the performance of their open academies.


The list of sponsors on pause changes on a regular basis and 7 of the sponsors that were on the original  list, of  25 October 2013, have subsequently taken on more academies.



Source Hansard 18 March


The successful chains according to the government

Lord Nash said in the Lords on 4 March that “Sponsored academies are now improving at double the rate of local authority-maintained schools.” He also conceded that E Act, the academy chain, had been “over ambitious”. The Department for Education is searching for sponsors to take over a string of struggling schools being relinquished by the E-Act academy chain, in what one commentator said was  the largest forced reorganisation of school management since the end of the grammar school era.

Lord Nash also  names the chains that he rates,  which hopefully wont come back to haunt him.

He said in the Lords on 4 March “We now have many successful chains, such as ARK, Harris, Outwood Grange, REAch2, Greenwood Dale, Aldridge and Perry Beeches, which are turning round inner-city schools that were previously just written off. Some of their performance statistics are really quite miraculous.”



The Department for Education has published a report on how so-called “converter”(as opposed to ‘sponsored’) academies have performed after their change of status. These account for more than two-thirds of the 3,613 academy schools.

This report looks at the performance of such converter academies, many of which, of course,  would have been higher-attaining schools before they changed their status.

In terms of GCSE results, this summer’s results showed 70% of converter academies achieving the benchmark of five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 59% of local authority schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “This report shows that academies are doing much better than local authority schools.

“Academy status lets teachers get on with the job, free from bureaucratic interference. Our reforms are raising standards and giving more parents the choice of a great local state school.”

A Labour spokesman said: ‘It is not the legal status of a school that matters most, it’s the quality of the teaching in the classroom.

“David Cameron has watered down teaching standards by allowing unqualified teachers into classrooms on a permanent basis. The Tory-led government is neglecting teacher quality for all schools, which is damaging standards across the country as a whole.”

The reports key findings are:

Based on outcomes from inspections carried out during the 2012/13 academic year:

Primary converter academies previously rated as outstanding were more likely to  retain that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

Primary converter academies previously rated as good were more likely to subsequently be rated as outstanding than local authority maintained mainstream schools and were also less likely to achieve a lower rating.

 Primary converter academies previously rated as satisfactory were more likely to improve that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

Secondary converter academies previously rated as outstanding were marginally more likely to retain that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.

 Secondary converter academies previously rated as good were more likely to subsequently be rated as outstanding than local authority maintained mainstream schools and were also less likely to achieve a lower rating.

 Secondary converter academies previously rated as satisfactory were more likely to improve that rating than local authority maintained mainstream schools.



What will they do and what is the timescale?


The Government has been attacked over the perceived lack of accountability in the schools system. With a majority of secondary schools now ‘autonomous’ academies  and directly accountable to the Secretary of State, critics have suggested that some form of middle tier is needed to ensure that struggling schools are spotted early on and given support.  Most academies are singletons, and not part of a chain. Chains  are thought  to be more accountable and more likely to drive up standards. The government has responded to these concerns by announcing that   eight full-time Regional Schools Commissioners will be appointed  this summer.

The RSCs will be classed as civil servants in the Department for Education, on fixed five year contracts.  They are expected to take up post in time for the 2014/15 academic year.

RSCs will undertake functions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education. These are expected to include:

 Monitoring performance and intervening to secure improvement in underperforming academies;

Taking decisions on the creation of new academies; and

 supporting the national schools commissioner to ensure that there are sufficient sponsors to meet local need.

The RSCs will fulfil this role for all academies, including where academies and free schools offer 16-19 provision. The head teacher boards supporting RSCs will comprise of local education leaders, including headteachers from academies rated as outstanding by Ofsted.  Around six of these outstanding heads will support each RSC. According to the government ‘This will ensure that skilled academy leaders have a voice in the development of the academy system in their region. The remit of the boards will not extend to further education or sixth form colleges and, therefore, we do not anticipate automatic representation for their Principals.’

The costs of RSCs  have yet to be fully determined However, any costs will obviously have to  be met within existing departmental administration budgets, which are being cut overall by 50% in real terms by 2015.


Lord Nash letter



Lawyers Browne Jacobson’s school leaders survey 2013


This survey, by legal firm Browne Jackson, which gives advice to schools, claims to provide a valuable independent barometer of satisfaction with policy, confidence levels and priorities for the future.

Key findings

the introduction of the Pupil Premium has been a resounding success with 72% satisfied with its introduction of which 13% are very satisfied

nearly three quarters of school leaders (72%) are dissatisfied with the Government’s free schools programme

plans by the Government to get tough on disruptive behaviour in the classroom has been met with a chorus of approval with 72% of school leaders satisfied

around seven out of ten school leaders (69%) are dissatisfied with Ofsted and the current inspection regime

two-thirds are dissatisfied with the Government’s policy towards the development of special educational needs provision

investing in the school estate is a high priority with 68% of school leaders looking to build and/or carry out significant capital works

becoming an academy in the next 12 months is a priority for one in three maintained primary schools in England. ( maybe, but doesnt that  conflict with the finding that  72% are  dissatisfied  with Free schools)


Note-About the research

Research for the school leaders survey 2013 was carried out between 30 September and 14 October 2013.

223 school leaders took part in the survey, of which 156 were headteachers. The remainder included CEOs, MDs, Executive Principals, Principals, Executive Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers and Principals. 60% of schools that took part were maintained and 40% academies. Of the total 68% were primary with 32% secondary. Where the results do not add up to 100%, this may be due to computer rounding.

Schools leaders survey report 2013


Private schools converting to academy status

Hardly a stampede


Lord Adonis who launched the Academies programme was always keen to encourage greater links between fee paying schools and academies and to encourage conversions of fee paying schools to academy status.

These conversions though,  from the private to the maintained sector ,remain rare. This may be partly because the financial incentives  to do so are less appealing than they used to be.

Just  14 former fee paying schools have converted to academy status over the past three academic years, 11 becoming free schools. They are funded on the same basis as other academies and equivalent to other local authority schools in the area.

Most of these schools received the standard project development grant of £25,000 given to mainstream schools to support them with the costs of conversion, although four received more.

All grants agreed since May 2010 are significantly smaller than the level of grants paid to independent schools moving into the state sector prior to May 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, project development grants given to converting independent schools ranged from £620,000 to as high as £1.7 million. In some cases, the Department for Education has also agreed to fund the existing debts of predecessor schools by securing a charge against the assets such as land and buildings. Consistent with the approach under the previous Government, some projects have also been provided with a contribution towards capital funding for the creation of new places.

Lord Adonis  memorably said that he would like the independent sectors DNA to be transferred into maintained schools. Its a great sound bite but the most successful independent schools are highly selective, have motivated and well educated parents, in support ,and can easily  get rid of coasting teachers.  Factors that do not apply to most state schools. In addition academies are still subject to interventions from outsiders unheard of in the independent sector.


Can Academy Trusts award contracts to companies in which their Trustees have a stake ?Yes but no profit


All academy trusts are required to openly procure any externally sourced services, including those related to their trustees.

When a business controlled by or belonging to a trustee bids for a contract the academy trust must consider if that service is the most appropriate for the academy and offers the best value for money. If the academy trust decides to award the contract to the trustee-related service, that business must deliver its services at cost, with no element of profit.

 There have been some questions raised in the media suggesting that academies might have lax financial accountability.  There is  little  evidence though that suggests  that academies have an easier  financial accountability regime than maintained schools. There have always been cases in the  maintained sector of financial irregularities.   They still remain across all  schools, rare. Indeed the government argues that in terms of financial accountability because academies  effectively wear three hats- as companies, charities and public bodies- their financial accountability is more robust than in maintained schools. Academy trusts are constituted as companies limited by guarantee, so are subject to the full rigour of the Companies Act. This means that, unlike maintained schools, academies are required to file independently audited accounts.

But it is clear that, despite all  this, a few of  those running  academy schools  have a rather  self-serving mind set when it comes to  using their autonomous status. Contracts should be put out to open tender, best value must be the lodestar.  And its probably not  best practice to employ family and friends in the school(s) you are running even if  the recruitment process is transparent.    The government must be careful that the academies/free school brand is not undermined in the same way that the Charter school  brand  in the States  has been ,where  some excellent schools and chains have co-existed with others that have failed  to measure up both in terms of business  practice and student outcomes.



Some concerns remain over the expansion of Faith Schools


Faith schools are now an important part of the education landscape and their numbers have increased in recent years.

Recent events in the  Muslim Al-Madinah  Free school in  Derby, judged dysfunctional   by Ofsted, has raised awareness of the number of faith schools that are publicly funded (around a third of all  schools are faith schools) and opened up the debate, again, over whether ‘faith’ schools should, in a secular society, be publicly funded. And, if so, whether the current regulation of these schools and of their admissions policies is sufficiently robust.

Faith schools tend to perform above average. But concerns have been raised over their admissions policies. The highly successful London Oratory (Catholic) school was recently criticised for its admissions policy. Indeed ,there is some research evidence that Faith schools tend to have less FSM  pupils on their books, than the local authority average, which implies some form of selection is taking place.

Lord Baker, the Conservative former Secretary of State for Education and Science who first introduced the National Curriculum, has expressed his disappointment at the increase in the number and diversity of religious schools since 1997.

In a recent interview in The House Magazine, Lord Baker commented that ‘I think the Labour Party in 1997 was very wrong to open up the possibility of having more religious schools. When I was Education Secretary I did not approve any independent religious schools. I went to a Church of England primary school myself and I liked it, it was a very good school. But Church of England primary schools are community schools, rather than church schools, and I believe very strongly that children of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – and atheists should all study together, play together, eat together, go on the bus together. So I’m not in favour of any more faith schools.’


New research from the British Humanist Association (which obviously has a particular agenda to advance) claims to have found ‘ that religious schools, particularly minority religious schools, are the most ethnically segregated.’ The  researchers claim that the majority of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu state-funded schools have no ‘white British’ pupils at all, while the rest have only one or two at most. At the same time, most Jewish state schools have no ‘Asian’ pupils at all. By comparison, the average Muslim, Hindu and Sikh school is situated in an area where a third of the local population is ‘white British’, whereas Jewish schools are in areas where 12 percent is ‘Asian’. The BHA has challenged the Government’s decision to fund such segregated schools, with all of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools and many of the Jewish schools having opened in the last few years.


These findings, according to the BHA, are based on the most recent available data, namely January 2013 figures for school populations and the 2011 Census for local area populations. Specific findings include:


Out of the five Sikh state schools for which data is available, four have no pupils at all that are classified as ‘white British’, compared to 30 percent of their local populations.

Out of four Hindu state schools, two have no pupils classified as ‘white British’, compared to 45 percent of their local populations.

Out of 15 Muslim state schools, eight have no pupils classified as ‘white British’. On average, over a third of the local populations are ‘white British’. Overall, Muslim schools have on average 34 percentage points fewer ‘white British’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically diverse schools in the areas in which they are located.

Out of 44 Jewish state schools, 29 have no pupils who are classified as having an ‘Asian’, compared to 12 percent of their local populations – with one school having a majority ‘Asian’ population in its immediate vicinity. Jewish schools have on average 13 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically inclusive schools located in their areas.

Out of 1,985 Roman Catholic schools, 245 have no ‘Asian’ pupils. Catholic schools typically have 4.4 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.

Out of 13,121 schools with no religious character, just 18 have no ‘white British’ pupils. 2,344 have no ‘Asian’ pupils, but less than 1 percent of these schools’ local populations are ‘Asian’. Schools with no religious character have on average 0.8 percentage points more ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.’


A report by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (published this week)  says that it is time to reconsider the special status given to religious education (RE) in schools for the past 70 years. It calls for debate on alternatives. The report complains that RE has become effectively marginalised in many schools and will call for a better system. It wants an open discussion on how best to provide good quality RE locally and nationally in the 21st century. One option would be to add the subject to the national curriculum, making it a legal requirement to teach the same approved syllabus. This would provoke protests from faith schools, which are allowed to teach a denominational syllabus agreed by their diocese.  It wants ‘strong, core knowledge of religions and worldviews through varied experiences, approaches and disciplines including investigative teaching and enquiry’.