What can academisation achieve?

Academisation is a relatively new education structure for schools and with this comes need for schools, academies and multi academy trusts (MATs) to share experiences and advice. It is for this very reason that Bett Academies launched at the NEC, Birmingham on 16-18 March

School and academy leaders from across the country spent a day at the show to gain new perspectives and insight from their peers. More importantly, in this time of squeezed budgets, entry to the show and all continuing professional development (CPD) seminar sessions were free of charge.

One of the most debatable sessions was based on the success of the Aspire Academy Trust. Presenter and CEO, Andrew Fielder, was looking for a healthy debate when he shared his views on how academies and MATs should be structured. His session started by reminding the audience that despite recent debate in the press, the objective of academies and MATs remains the same: to create a world-class Trust, providing children with an outstanding education for generations to come.

During his presentation, he reminded visitors of the opportunities that this new educational landscape offers academies and MATs, which includes having a shared vision, identifying and removing barriers, learning from past mistakes, renewing and re-shaping governance and, of course, developing a multi-skilled workforce that is flexible, fast-moving, and looks beyond each individual school.

Some of his more controversial points included the need to embed responsibility and accountability systems deep into every classroom and office, and the importance of identifying and then removing superfluous burdens from school staff to enable them to improve teaching and learning outcomes with pace and certainty. He outlined his vision for all schools to have teacher networks; using IT to enable shared staff meetings, planning session, lessons, resources, moderation and social networking. But probably his most controversial point was that this infrastructure removes the need for governing bodies and headteachers.

Other seminar sessions included one delivered by Cathie Paine, deputy chief executive of REAch2 Academy Trust. Cathie shared her advise with visitors on how to facilitate a change in culture within academies. She drew on experience from her expertise as a leader who has gone through this process, giving visitors ideas and insight.

Another motivational session was delivered by Rob Tarn, the regional chief executive and national leader of education at the high-performing Outwood Grange Academy Trust. Tarn outlined the Trust’s model for rapid transformation in struggling schools. He explained how to bring about a drastic culture shift in schools in special measures so that, within just seven short weeks, they can climb the ranks and become ‘good’ and even ‘outstanding’ schools. He has worked as a headteacher at six schools in special measures, and has seen these schools improve beyond recognition. The presentation proved to be an eye opener for many visitors.

Academy stakeholders including national schools’ commissioner, Sir David Carter and the Rt Hon David Laws were also at Bett Academies. Sir David opened the show by providing an update on ‘academy progress’, while Rt Hon David Laws looked at the role that academy schools play in achieving a world-class education for all children.

He guided attendees through the evolution of the academy schools programme, and the impact it has had on various areas of performance and achievement. With informed and practical advice on how to work within an academy to achieve a world-class level of education, this proved to be a highly informative session for all academy and MAT leaders and teachers.

Despite its name, Bett Academies wasn’t just designed for the needs of academies and MATs. Those schools that do not yet have academy status attended the session presented by Tom Rees, headteacher and director at Northampton Primary Academy Trust (NPAT). He explained how he used to feel, not wanting to be absorbed by a large MAT but equally having no desire to start a new one. Wanting to take the step towards academisation on his own terms, he joined other schools in Northampton who started working together to form NPAT as equal partners, not built on the back of a top-down sponsor.

Teachers, leaders, governors and bursars, from schools, academies and MAT all left the show with more understanding of the possibilities that academy status can achieve.

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