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Academisation Consultation

Claire Tasker, Headteacher, has recently addressed the topic of High Storrs' academisation through her blog:

Blog 13, Mrs Tasker, 2 March 2017

On the first day of the half term holiday I received an email from a wonderful student. He was perturbed by the letter sent out just before we broke up outlining a need for High Storrs School to academise. He told me about an online petition against the proposal. It was a thoughtful email, outlining the fears of many that becoming an academy would threaten all that is special about High Storrs School. Moreover, it railed against the ‘big chains’ and referred to evidence that academisation does not necessarily lead to school improvements.

There are many that believe academisation is not the right was forward for schools in England. They were saddened by the moves made in Spring last year to pass a law to force all schools to academise. Then they were heartened by a seeming U-turn a few months later. Alas, whatever we think of academisation, the future seems clear… all schools will ultimately become academies. Twenty three out of the twenty five secondary schools in Sheffield have become academies and over a third of Primary schools are also academies. We have a Regional Schools Commissioner whose role it is to move all schools in our region into Multi Academy Trusts. So the debate is no longer binary (i.e. ‘should we academies or not?’), the debate is ‘how do we do this on our terms and preserve all that is special and unique about High Storrs School?' This is the debate that is currently occupying our governing body (and has been for more than a year now). They are spending hours discussing and exploring the options with a key principle at the heart of all they do – what will preserve the best of our school and enable us to further improve? There are advantages and freedoms to academisation too that can make our school even stronger.

If you have thoughts and feelings about the next steps for High Storrs School do share them! You will soon receive a letter asking for questions that will be answered and addressed on our website. I hope a great many more of our students and community will be part of the debate moving forward.

The Chair of High Storrs Governing Body, David Mowbray, has written to all parents regarding their position on academisation in Sheffield and the future for High Storrs School:

What is academisation?
Academisation is the process by which a school is removed from the control of the Local Authority (LA) and becomes an autonomous body. The resulting academy, or academy trust, receives funding directly from the government with no LA “top slice” (a charge levied to fund operational costs). It answers to one of seven government regional schools’ commissioners (RSCs).

What are the different academisation models?
Until recently schools could convert as stand-alone academies. However, we have been told by the RSC’s office that this option is no longer allowed. The government wishes to see schools working together in groups known as Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). A MAT can consist of a group of secondary or primary schools or a mixture of both. Some MATs also incorporate special schools. The only options now available are to create a new MAT or to join an existing MAT. Recent discussions with the RSC suggest that the option to create a new MAT could disappear soon. The government’s view seems to be that there are now too many small MATs, which results in the RSC having too many contact points, and that small MATs may not be financially viable in the long term.

Is joining / creating a MAT a merger of schools?
No. We are aiming for a structure in which schools retain their identity, ethos and as much independence as possible. The interactions within the MAT would be at a high level, mainly between Senior Leadership teams, but with staff sharing ideas and good practice across the MAT. Students would still attend High Storrs School and staff would have contracts for employment at High Storrs.

Can the school be forced to academise?
Although the government has pulled back from enacting legislation to force all schools to academise, it is still its stated aim that all schools will become academies. There are two criteria, both loosely defined, under which forced academisation will occur:
  • Where it is clear that the LA can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted;
  • Where the LA consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful improvement.

It is not known if, or when, either of these would apply but Sheffield is graded 5 by the DfE for performance of its schools (on a 1?6 scale, where 1 is best) and only three secondary schools (High Storrs, King Edwards and Stocksbridge) remain LA-controlled. Remaining LA schools in some areas (e.g. Hull) are now being forced to academise as the LA is deemed not able to adequately support them. A school would be immediately academised if it achieved the lowest of the four grades following an Ofsted inspection.

If the school does not face the immediate prospect of forced academisation, why are you considering academisation now?
The Governing Board believes that academisation is inevitable and so has to choose the optimum point to academise. We believe that the number of options and potential partners will decrease significantly in the short/medium term. By academising now we still have a choice as to which schools we will work with, either by forming a new MAT or by joining an existing small MAT. If we wait, we risk being forced to join a large MAT where we will have little or no say in its structure or policies. This could be very detrimental to the school.

What does academisation allow a school to do?
Academisation gives schools a number of ‘freedoms’ that are not available to LA-controlled schools. These include: not following the National Curriculum (although a broad curriculum must be followed), making changes to the length of the school day and changing school terms, hiring teachers without Qualified Teaching Status, opting out of the LA admissions system (although they must follow the same rules as other state schools), and sponsoring a new or failing school. It should be stated that the majority of schools that have academised do not make use of these powers; limited changes to the curriculum is the power most commonly exercised.

Is there any evidence that academisation results in improved academic performance?
There is mixed evidence. The strongest evidence suggests that there are benefits from schools working closely together but not necessarily within an academy structure. A good source of information is the report by the select committee of Parliament from 2016.

Are there other advantages / disadvantages of academisation?
Being a member of a MAT has a number of potential advantages. These could include greater efficiencies when buying in external services (e.g. IT, HR support), joint staff CPD across the MAT, increased staff career development and retention within the MAT and other economies of scale. A disadvantage is the requirement to fund an additional management layer at the top of the MAT, although this “top slicing” may be less than the amount previously levied by the LA.

What difference will academisation make to my son or daughter’s education?
If we are able to join or create a MAT of our choice that allows the unique character of the school to be maintained, then students will notice no difference on the day that the school converts to an academy. Over time we would hope to utilise the experience of other schools in the MAT to further improve our learning and teaching.

Will academisation result in the introduction of a school uniform?
If the school were forced to join particular academy chains / MATs then introduction of a school uniform could be a requirement. However, the Governing Board would look to create or join a MAT where this decision remains with the Governing Board; in our view, decisions regarding school uniform and academisation should be completely separate. This is another reason why the Governing Board is actively considering academisation now, while we still have a choice as to whether to create a new MAT or join an existing one.

What options are you considering?
We are currently talking with local secondary and primary schools and also with schools from across Sheffield. There are many factors to consider but possibly the most important ones are to identify partner schools with a similar ethos, that have a structure that is not strongly centralised and which permits schools to retain their identity, and that bring complementary expertise that enables inter-school support and development.
If you have any questions that you would like to send in please ensure that you quote 'Academisation Consultation' in the subject box and send to