The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sue Birchall

Academisation u-turn: a change for the better?

The government's decision to row back on academisation spells uncertainty for many, a welcome relief for others. What will the future hold for the sector?

The Education Bill, which included legislation forcing academisation, has been dropped. Yet another conundrum for schools, a change of heart amidst one of the biggest shake-ups the education sector has ever undergone.

As someone working within a trust that has been trying to build a collaborative approach and consolidate the support available to its academies, I feel ever so slightly aggrieved.

There is a feeling, surely mirrored in many a trust and academy across the country, that we have been left high and dry.

The reality is that we are faced with a change which for some will be monumental, and for others a welcome relief.

A direction of travel which had been clearly set out by the Conservative government with a recognised aim has been eradicated without a by-your-leave. It is rather reminiscent of the Grant Maintained legacy and its demise brought about by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998

It is clear from Justine Greening’s statement regarding the government’s Technical and Further Education Bill that academisation is now no longer compulsory, but left open as an option.

The bottom line is that education should be about improving access and outcomes for all pupils, with an emphasis on building capacity.

Looking to the future

The reality is that we are faced with a change which for some will be monumental, and for others a welcome relief.

Across the sector there is certainly a degree of uncertainty regarding academisation which derives partly from a fear of the unknown. Maintained schools can now breathe a sigh of relief; if they choose to follow the academy route, they can do so now at their leisure.

However, for the one third of all secondary (and slightly fewer primary) schools that have already academised, the picture is quite different.

Owing to their established practices, standalone and large MATs should be able to weather the storm. Small-to-medium sized trusts, especially if fairly new, are a risk of being most affected.

It takes time and money to establish the necessary support services for a corporate approach, replacing the need to buy in from the local authority and professional services. In order to develop this, they need to attract other schools to bring an injection of income.

Without this investment in the corporation, further growth and stability will be difficult to achieve.

Academisation still remains an inevitable option for some schools. How can SBMs prepare?

Optimus members can watch our webinar with expert consultant Cate Hart to get answers on your pressing concerns. 

Funding

The forthcoming reduction in the Education Services Grant (ESG), the grant that funds the cost of support services, has been reported to be a major concern for all schools and academies.

The grant has often helped institutions pay for essentials such as payroll and personnel costs. LAs may now have to ask schools to fund some of these costs themselves, or remove them from their offer entirely.

The statutory responsibility of LAs to maintain and improve standards will remain in place, and this is likely to be the priority for any future funding.

The road ahead

Could the future of the academy programme be secured as schools search for best value? Will the decision to become an academy be based on finance, not educational outcomes?

Albert Einstein once mused that ‘life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving’. These constant policy changes ensure that we do.

As school business leaders we will always be on the frontlines, and the sector can benefit greatly from our ability to manage change as it occurs.

I would suggest keeping an eye on the government’s ‘Schools that work for everyone’ agenda, and watch with baited breath.

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