The recent budget announcement that all schools must become, or be in the process of becoming, academies by 2022 has not been universally welcomed. I understand the concern of both parents and colleagues in the teaching profession, however it is a proposal that I feel offers an exciting opportunity for education in England, which should be viewed in the wider context of other changes taking place in the education sector. Principal among these are the developing role of Schools Commissioners and the shift in emphasis in school inspection likely occur under a new Ofsted chief.
Academies enjoy significantly increased freedoms compared to schools under local authority control. These freedoms allow individual schools to respond specifically to the needs of their children and the families they support. The ability to tailor their offering in turn can create an increased sense of ownership of the provision in the school community.
There are, of course, challenges to be overcome. Smaller schools will struggle to deliver for themselves the support services they currently rely on the local authority for. However, overcoming this offers another positive opportunity. Collaboration and partnership between schools to deliver these services can also lead to wider benefits such as the sharing of best practice and expertise. Indeed, Sir David Carter, the national Schools Commissioner (and previously Chief Executive of the Cabot Learning Federation), sees collaboration and partnership as an essential part of transforming educational provision and enhancing education for all. In my view, these partnerships are likely to work best when they are formed of small clusters of local academies, rather than those offered by national academy chains.
Similarly the new Ofsted boss is likely to want to see more collaboration between schools and a shift in the emphasis of inspection to one of mutual support, borne from a desire to see the education of every child enhanced.
My enthusiasm for these changes and my belief that they will be of benefit to all comes from the experience of twenty years of school leadership in the state and independent sector, as well as experience gained inspecting schools for Ofsted.
This experience shows me that where schools have greatest flexibility to respond to the needs of children and the increased independence to operate in their best interest, the chance for them to flourish, indeed to excel greatly increases. Change is often unsettling, but I encourage those who will be implementing these ones to grab this exciting opportunity with both hands.
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School