The Chancellor has announced today as part of the budget that all schools will become academies by 2022 at the latest. For some, this will be very troubling. The task of managing structural reform on such a large scale while also implementing the curriculum, qualification, assessment and accountability reforms is daunting indeed. The scale of this change is extraordinary and gives new meaning to a rapidly reforming system. And this is made all the more difficult by the financial pressures that schools are under.
The Chancellor also announced an education White Paper to be published tomorrow (17 March). We have yet to understand the detail of the announcement about full academisation, which will undoubtedly be in the White Paper.
I’d like to explore this announcement in the context of another paper I have been reading – the RSA and Innovation Unit’s excellent Creative Public Leadership: How Schools System Leaders Can Create the Conditions for System-wide Innovation.
An important message of this report is we should not converge on a single policy solution. While the announcement about full academisation is landscape-changing, I think as leaders it is worth thinking more boldly and deeply. The self-improving system is a much larger aspiration than full academisation.
There are those who argue that full academisation is the vehicle for the self-improving system. And there are also those who believe that full academisation is a distraction from the real tasks of creating a self-improving system.
I do not intend to debate the merits or otherwise of full academisation; positions are entrenched on both sides. I do, however, want to bring us back to ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving system. Our first paragraph says: “We want a system in which all children and young people achieve. We believe we can have a great education system that delivers quality and equality for all students. This will involve an act of imagination, courage and collective action.”
This is the prize we must surely all be working towards: a self-improving system in which all children and young people achieve.
The report on Creative Public Leadership and ASCL’s Blueprint both make the case for leaders to create platforms for collective agency. Our task now is to remain in control of the destiny of our schools and to work together to create strong, sustainable groups of schools that deliver quality and equality.
We know that there is a strong correlation between collaborative cultures and system success. If we are to remain in control, we must use academisation to drive continuous improvement through principled partnerships. We need to think about the mission and vision that underpins and drives these partnerships.
School systems improve when the quality of teaching improves; partnerships offer the best way to ensure the spread of professional expertise between schools. We know it is necessary to consciously build professional capital and trust among teachers and create the conditions for teachers to work together to improve practice across groups of schools.
The central premise of the Blueprint is that deep and sustained reform of our education system will not come from outside the profession; it depends on us – the many, not just the few. It is surely possible that we can take advantage of the emerging policy context to create the generative conditions for a truly great education system.
We must step forward to lead this change together. Our leadership must be active, passionate, ethical and driven by our collective dedication and effort. Together, we can create the conditions for system-wide innovation and improvement.