The government has today published a White Paper – Educational Excellence Everywhere - putting more flesh on the bones of the budget statement of 16 March.
The document makes clear that all schools will be academies by 2022 and where they have not taken steps to convert by 2020 they will be directed to do so.
All schools to become academies
National Governors’ Association welcomed the freedom that governing bodies had to decide whether it was the right step for their pupils to become academies and is disappointed that this autonomy will now be removed.
Governing bodies need to carefully consider their next steps. The White Paper says that schools should have converted or be on the road to conversion by 2020 and it is important that governing bodies take the time to think about the best approach for their pupils. Discussions need to begin now, but there is no need to rush into a decision in the next six months, or even 12 months. This is especially the case as the White Paper envisions that the majority of schools will in future be part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) and all options need need to be thought through.
NGA in conjunction with the Association of School and College Leaders and BrowneJacobson produced the document Governing Groups of Schools: staying in control of your schools destiny, which provides advice and guidance for schools considering the conversion process, particularly as part of a MAT.
The majority of schools are still local authority maintained and it will be a significant logistical exercise to ensure all remaining schools have converted or be in the process of doing so by 2020. NGA is not convinced that there is enough capacity in the system to ensure that these changes are done well and stand the test of time.
NGA has long campaigned for induction training to be mandatory and we welcome the Department for Education’s (DfE) focus on the need for all those involved in governance to receive proper induction and ongoing training and development. We look forward to working with Sir David Carter (National Schools Commissioner) to develop the competency framework proposed for governance in different contexts. As the organisation leading the field on developing schemes of delegation for multi academy trusts, NGA is well placed to inform this process. It is important that the framework considers the competence of the team of those governing; it is the combined skills, wisdom, knowledge and experience of all those around the table which makes for rich discussion and good decision making.
Parents and governance
NGA is disappointed to see that there will be no ongoing requirement for elected parents on the governing boards of academies. NGA thinks that parents of children and young people studying at a school bring an important perspective to the governance of schools that others are unlikely to bring. NGA completely concurs with the view that skills are a vitally important part of the genetic make-up of any board. Indeed, getting the ‘right people’ round the table is the first of our eight elements of effective governance. Recruiting a small number of board members from certain stakeholder groups and having a skilled board are not mutually exclusive. Governing boards are strongest when they have a range of skills, experience and views. Elections provide a useful device for ensuring that those with different views are able to join boards.
Last summer at our conference the Secretary of State floated the proposition of removing categories of governors from maintained school governors, and NGA carried out a significant piece of work consulting our members to inform our response to the DfE. A fortnight ago we celebrated prematurely when officials at the DfE's Advisory Group on Governance reported that there would be no constitutional change on parent governors; little did we know that that was because because within four to six years there would be no more maintained schools and therefore the DfE would limit changes to parents' contributions to academy governance announced later that same month.
We welcome the White Paper’s acknowledgement of the importance of parents in the school system which has been lacking from the DfE over the past few years and their intention to remedy this by requiring academy trusts to listen to the views of all parents. We completely agree that elected parents on the governing board are not the right mechanism for doing this, but this has never been their role. NGA will be continuing to encourage governing boards to consult with and report to parents.
Teacher and Leadership Recruitment
NGA welcomes the focus on recruiting high quality teachers, but remains concerned about current shortages and how soon these gaps will be filled.
We are pleased about the focus on training and development for both teacher and senior leaders and look forward to working with the DfE both as NGA and through the Foundation for Leadership in Education on the development of future qualifications.
NGA welcomes the proposed introduction of ‘improvement periods’ where a new leader has taken on a school in difficulty and is given time to embed improvement before Ofsted inspects.
Regional Schools Commissioners
We are disappointed that the DfE does not appear to have taken on board the comments from the House of Commons Education Select Committee about the composition of Headteacher Boards (HTBs) which support the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The White Paper makes clear that the RSCs working with HTBs ‘approve governance arrangements for new academies’ but it appears that there will still be no requirement for the HTB to contain individuals with governance expertise. This seems at odds with the requirements elsewhere in the document for governing boards to be entirely skills based.
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the NGA, said:
“Sadly this White Paper appears to be a dismissal of the effort many governors up and down England make to the education of pupils. Many volunteers are being told today that the time and thought they have been putting into consideration of very difficult issues is not valued. It is not wise simply to remove those who disagree with you. Governance is strongest when it takes into account all evidence and all views.”
There are of course a range of views on the contents on the White Paper and some of those unhappy that all schools will be required to convert to academy status have launched a petition. Members can of course also write to their MP with any comments on the contents of the White Paper.
NGA have produced an initial briefing note on the White Paper (members only) which gives a summary of the policy statements which will impact on governors and their schools. Click here to access the document.
Since the publication of the Department for Education’s Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper:
White Paper fallout: Emma Knights considers the nature of oversight and accountability in schools and suggests a radical alternative
White Paper fallout: parent governors - why the government has got this wrong
The intention to force all schools to become academies has been opposed by many stakeholders. NGA was join signatory of a letter published in the Sunday Telegraph in March:
SIR – The forcible transfer of 17,000 schools to academy status within the next six years, as proposed in the Government’s White Paper, will be a huge distraction from schools’ core functions of teaching and learning. Instead of focusing on children’s education, school leaders will be forced to hire lawyers, consultants and accountants, and manage the transfer of school land and buildings.
This is not what parents want from their schools; nor was this proposal part of the manifesto that the current Government put before the electorate. Under the White Paper’s plans, parents could also be banished from school governing boards.
What schools need most is stability, so they can make the latest reforms work. We stand ready to work with the Government to ensure we have an education system that meets the needs of all children and has the support of school staff, parents, local authorities, diocesan bodies and existing academy trusts.
Christine Blower General Secretary, NUT Mary Bousted General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cllr Melinda Tilley (Con) Cabinet Member for Children, Education & Families, Oxfordshire County Council Cllr Joe Caluori Executive Member for Children and Families, LB Islington Russell Hobby General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers Lucy Powell MP Caroline Lucas MPHenry Stewart Co-founder, Local Schools Network Jon RichardsHead of Education, UNISON Emma Knights Chief Executive, National Governors’ Association Michael Rosen