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Phil Cresswell: "Much better to have an academy sponsor whom the community understands and are introduced to, rather than one that is simply imposed"

Managing change

Phil Cresswell looks at the challenges and risks presented by increased academisation

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 23, 2015 | People, policy, politics

Criticism and concern over coasting children in what have been termed ‘languishing and underperforming’ schools has been made; Labour has accused the Government of missing the challenges faced by schools - yet as we enter the first term of the first majority Conservative Government in over 18 years, we must also consider the implications of potential budget reductions to schools and academies, in parallel to this latest move to increase the rate of academisation.   

Academies aren’t new – in fact they were a Labour initiative under the Blair Government and have been controversial ever since. As with any new policy, there are some major opportunities that could be gained here, but likewise there is always the caution of managing risks. ‘Coasting’ schools certainly aren’t new, and anyone involved in historic investment programmes understands how firm measures were previously put in place to understand the impact that investment makes to attainment, not least the Primary Capital Programmes of the late 2000s. 

However, Local Authorities must be involved in any changes to the face of education, schools and schooling within their boundaries. The academy and free school presumptions should still include a role for the Local Authority, as they do now through the inclusion of impact assessments, particularly over transition and community impact. Much better to have an academy sponsor whom the community understands and are introduced to, rather than one that is simply imposed. Lessons learned since 1997 and 2010 must be taken into account. EC Harris have been actively involved in sponsor selection over the past two parliamentary terms and have experienced both good and not so good examples of implementation, but time spent at the front-end of the process pays dividends for everyone involved. 

The biggest risk for sponsors and multi-academy trusts is the geographical spread of a dispersed school estate. Managing leadership cultural differences, building, revenue costs, ICT, energy efficiencies, facilities management and communications in an ever-dispersed national network, across mufti-LEA boundaries, is never going to be easy. There are solutions though. Integrated supply chain management and new services to schools models must be a consideration in any proposed changes to ensure the capacity, capability and systems are in place to assure transition and success for all; not least the learners who deserve the best teaching and support to increase their life chances. Academy sponsors, LEAs and schools must be able to concentrate on teaching, learning and improving outcomes rather than getting bogged down on change management issues. 

Phil Cresswell is Education & Local Government Partner at EC Harris, an Arcadis company.

www.echarris.com    

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