Queen’s Speech renews academies drive


Last week we saw the first Queen’s Speech of a new parliament for almost 10 years and with it a raft of legislation totalling 26 bills. Amongst the headline grabbing backdrop of the EU Referendum Bill and the promise of more devolution for Scotland, was the new Education and Adoption Bill. This bill is a renewal of the government’s commitment to its policy of continued academisation and it gives Regional Schools Commissioners new powers to intervene in failing schools. These powers include being able to bring in “leadership support” and “speeding up the process” of turning schools into academies. An inadequate Ofsted report will now lead to schools being forced to convert to an academy, and barriers will be removed to ensure this happens swiftly.

It is not only failing schools that will be affected, as the bill goes one step further and any schools that meet a new ‘coasting’ definition will also be forced to become academies. Although, exactly what classifies a school as ‘coasting’ has not yet been fully defined, such schools are described as having shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress.

The next phase

The next phase of the government’s plans for education will see an accelerated targeting of struggling schools in England with changes to their leadership, in addition to the fulfilment of the Prime Minister’s pre-election pledge to open another 500 academies and free schools.

The government hopes that these new powers for Regional Schools Commissioners will be used to bring in help from well performing leadership at high-achieving schools and to speed up the process of converting these schools to academy trusts. With the ultimate goal of all this being, of course, to raise standards.

For any coasting or failing schools that undergo this process, it appears likely that they will ultimately be entered into some form of formal partnership arrangement, such as a Multi Academy or Umbrella Trust with their sponsor school. Indeed, a shortage of high quality academy sponsors with the capacity to take on and turnaround challenging schools is anticipated to be the biggest barrier to these plans. Therefore, Regional school commissioners are focusing their efforts on persuading individual academy heads to rise to the challenge through MATs/Umbrella Trusts. The problem with this strategy, however, is that there is currently little incentive for the heads to do so. It will be interesting to see how the government will deal with this issue. Will they provide greater incentives for potential sponsors or even consider looking to profit making organisations to sponsor failing or ‘coasting’ schools?