The Year Ahead for Academy Schools

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that, should the Conservatives win the next election, funding per school pupil would be frozen in cash terms – although he notably revealed funding would not rise with inflation as is currently the case. This real terms school funding freeze is what we predicted in a previous blog post at the end of last year– The maths Questions the parties don’t want to answer, 17th December. The Prime Minister’s pledge will influence debates over school spending, with Labour now under pressure to match or even exceed the Conservative’s pledge (the Liberal Democrats have already promised to ring-fence schools spending).

Today Whitehouse will forecast the future again, by publishing a paper that anticipates The Year Ahead for Academy Schools

This paper could not have been published at a more fitting time, as the Prime Minister David Cameron gave yesterday what could be considered the single biggest defence of the academies and free schools programme offered by the Government since Michael Gove MP was removed as Education Secretary in July last year.

Cameron said yesterday that thousands of schools rated by Ofsted as ‘requiring improvement’ should be forced to be taken over by leading academy chains as part of “all-out war on mediocrity.” The Conservative’s proposals would mean that schools rated as requiring improvement would automatically be considered for academy status unless the existing leadership provides a “clear plan for rapid improvement”.

The detail of the policy remains to be disclosed, but the Prime Minister’s announcement is a categorical endorsement of the Coalition Government’s academisation programme, and a direct response to recent criticisms of its schools policy. In essence, the Prime Minister is arguing that academies have raised, are raising and will continue to raise school standards. This is in slight contrast to a report on academies and free schools published a week earlier.

On 27th January, the House of Commons Education Select Committee published a report on academies and free schools that provides a comprehensive assessment of the progress of the academies programme. As was widely noted in the media, the report states that is too early to say what the overall impact of the academies programme has been. However, its conclusions are more positive than the headlines suggest by deeming academies and free schools to be a “healthy” addition to the education system.

However, it is worth considering that the report did not say that academies and free schools are the cure the Prime Minister is suggesting they are. The Education Committee report goes on to pose questions about the future of the academies programme, including the much debated issue of oversight and invention and the big question over whether academies and maintained schools can coexist and thrive within the same ecosystem.

This is why today Whitehouse has produced paper to that anticipates the policy environment that this ecosystem will be developing in over the coming year and suggest what academies need to do – not only to survive – but to thrive. We argue that academy trusts, chains and clusters now more than ever must do more to defend their own record, create positive headlines by emphasising where they have achieved good results and engage with leaders of the next Government to ensure they stand up for schools against their critics when difficulties emerge.

To learn more please see our policy insights paper – here.