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Budget 2016: government's plans for education reform

The education sector responds to confirmed academy conversion plans and school funding formula

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 16, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Today’s budget confirmed expected plans for all schools in England to become, or be in the process of becoming, an academy by the end of this Parliament in 2020.

While school leaders’ unions have expressed caution at using academisation as an answer to school improvement, senior figures in the academy sector have expressed confidence in the plan. 

Dame Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, CEO of Bright Futures Educational Trust, says the academy education system will enable school leaders to innovate and develop schools more freely. 

"While some parts of the education sector might be concerned about the rigours of changing to an Academy system, the shift away from local authority control will enable schools to be more innovative and fleet of foot,” she said.

"'Entrepreneurial' is a word generally reserved for business but many feel the time has come for schools to adopt a more financially-savvy approach. Tony Blair acknowledged this week that the public sector is 'not good at innovating' and multi-academy trusts are already developing new ways to increase funding and improve on existing standards.  

"School leaders should view this an opportunity for reform that will enable them to cut through a lot of the restraints currently applied to school administration. Educational reform is by no means an easy task but this is a step in the right direction and will enable better collaboration and development between schools."

Ian Cleland, CEO of Academy Transformation Trust, said that while there is no perfect solution, the academy trust approach is achieving more for their pupils every year: "We have ambitious growth plans as a trust and this coincides with the government's plans to convert all schools into academies." 

The Active Learning Trust is confident in improvement in the academy sector. CEO Gary Peile said: “The Active Learning Trust is ready to support schools who plan to  convert to an academy by 2020 after today’s announcement. Most, but not all, schools who joined the Trust did so at a time when they had a need to improve rapidly and all sought a partnership with a Trust and other schools to aid that work. 

“Central, and indeed crucial, to our development has been a shared understanding that all schools are now responsible for securing improvement across the Trust. We believe that this strong system of school to school support, held to account by a Trust, is having a direct positive impact on progress and attainment across our area. We expect to play our part in supporting other schools in the coming years who wish to take advantage of working with us and to share in the work to help all our pupils and students reach their goals.”

Mark Cummins, charity & education partner at Russell New, says improving standards of teaching should be the priority when schools are converted. 

“The quality of teaching and learning should be top of the agenda,” he said. “Schools of charitable status are highly regulated organisations, and rightly so. Risk assessment for academies is essential as this establishes who is responsible for each role within the risk process. Larger schools may well find themselves in a position to hire an in-house team of specialists; one that can keep abreast of current regulation updates and ensures that annual audits are completed. However, for the smaller school, these responsibilities can often fall on the already stretched senior management team. This can obviously have a severe impact on their performance in frontline duties which has a knock on effect on their ability to teach and therefore, the child's ability to learn.”

Mike Hamilton, director at education provider Commando Joe’s, applauded the proposed extension to the school day, supported by new funding.

“I welcome the fact the Chancellor is placing emphasis on the education system,” he said.

“Providing incentives to schools which dedicate time to sport and extra-curricular activities will be a way of encouraging more children to take part, which is a positive thing. These activities help to develop teamwork, leadership and organisational skills as well as helping to build character and resilience in pupils – all things that will help them realise and reach their potential in later life.”

Another key announcement in the Budget is the introduction of a ‘fair funding formula’ for schools worth £500m. Firefly co-founder Joe Mathewson has described this as "the biggest change to education since the closure of the grammar schools".

“The chancellor's plan to allocate £500m to ensure a "fair funding" formula for schools creates opportunities for transformation in education,” says Joe. “Regardless of whether full academisation by 2022 in and of itself leads to school improvement or not - and this will be a long and heated debate - this draft legislation well and truly opens the door for the ambitious teacher and the “teacherpreneur”.

“This is where edtech can play a huge part in making the sharing of best practice easier by connecting and sharing, whether it's between departments or entire schools. With technology schools’ resource pages, curriculum structure, homework assignments and much more can be effortlessly passed from one teacher to another. It's this macro level of communication and collaboration that could see the new academies excelling. 

“Rather than thinking about technology in and of itself, there's a real opportunity to use it to encourage best practice, innovation and empower teachers across a network of schools to improve performance, accountability and oversight.”

We want to hear your views on how the #Budget2016 will affect the education sector – send us your comments here.

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