Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in edtech
Howard Jackson: "A school leader must also be able to mobilise a strong team of skilled staff with the right knowledge and skills to succeed in the changing landscape"

Leadership challenges for the 21st century head

Howard Jackson offers advice on how to meet the challenges that converting to an academy brings

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 06, 2015 | Law, finance, HR

In the last five years, the number of schools transitioning to academy status has grown considerably. As the number of sponsored academies grows, more and more local authority schools are coming round to the idea of converting. Despite the considerable benefits, making the change to become an academy does not come without its challenges. In order for newly-converted academies to be successful, it is the role of the school leaders to fully get to grips with both their new responsibilities and the obligations of other members of staff. Greater transparency, complete financial accountability and a concern for potential conflicts of interest between the newly appointed board of trustees and existing members of staff means that school leaders have their work cut out.   

Becoming an academy means greater autonomy over the day-to-day running of the school and the curriculum. However, when a school becomes an academy it is suddenly expected to manage all its own finances and still meet all Government requirements. With this in mind, it is important that schools have a strong team of skilled personnel to make the grade. A number of recent investigations have shown that at present some schools are struggling with the changes and, on occasion, a lack of skills and awareness has contributed to financial problems later down the line. 

Understanding a leader’s new role

When a school becomes an academy usually the head teacher becomes the main accounting officer for the organisation and is suddenly responsible for overseeing multi-million pound budgets. This is a huge amount of added pressure as they are now responsible for making sure the school upholds good accounting standards and operates as a business. They are also the one that will be held accountable if anything goes wrong. 

In order to ensure head teachers are well equipped with the skills needed to make this jump, there are a number of training courses available that focus on bringing school leaders and management teams up to speed with their new roles. For example, HCSS Education offers a training course designed specifically for senior leadership teams in schools. The course looks at the characteristics of inspirational leaders and examines some of the main reasons why strategies fail, and ways to overcome these issues.  

Understanding the new responsibilities of the team

As well as understanding their own responsibilities, to make sure an academy is managing its finances effectively a school leader must also be able to mobilise a strong team of skilled staff with the right knowledge and skills to succeed in the changing landscape. It is therefore up to a school leader to detect any skills gaps in their team and work to address them as quickly and effectively as possible.  

A key role within the academy school framework is that of the chief financial officer. This role involves both technical and leadership duties and it is up to the board of trustees to decide whether this role requires a person with business or accountancy qualifications or not. If the board decides it is time for a reshuffle and wants to appoint someone new to this role, it is also the school leader’s responsibility to manage the new team’s structure and do their best to answer any questions existing team members might have about the new appointment. 

Converting to an academy means a lot of added responsibility for a school leader. Because of the complete financial control academies are afforded, there is significantly more risk compared with local authority funded schools. In order to overcome these risks, school leaders must get to grips with both their own new responsibilities and the new obligations of their entire team. This, coupled with increased transparency and a rigid procedure for reporting to the board of trustees, means that school leaders have an awful lot on their plate. However with adequate training and by implementing the structural changes, empowered school leaders can manage the changes effectively so that the whole team feels comfortable and confident about becoming an academy. 

Howard Jackson is chief executive of HCSS Education education finance specialists.

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in edtech

Related stories

How academies can harness leadership for growth

Five trends for education in 2019

UK Construction Week reveals optimistic industry

Market place - view all

Tamlite Lighting

Tamlite Lighting was founded in 1967 at Telford in Shropshire and t...



Pro Display was born to innovate, changing the face of visual displ...