Lord Nash speaks about unlocking the power of academies

Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools speaks at the Academies Show about unlocking the power of academies.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Lord Nash

Good morning and thank you Nick.

This is my third Academies Show. Time flies. If we sat down in the summer of 2010 and tried to predict where we are now I certainly would not have predicted where I am. I’ve been in this job now for 15 months. It is just over 12 months to go till the election so it provides for me a good opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved.

As effectively a Labour party appointee to the Conservative government having been originally appointed an academy sponsor by Andrew Adonis - so it is him who got me into all this - and with my views on education being best described as pretty left wing, I am in a rather odd position. But I am an academy sponsor and a government minister so I won’t claim to be entirely objective but I will try.

In the summer of 2010 there were 203 academies - 188 Adonis type sponsored academies and 15 Conservative created CTCs.

There are now over 4,000 academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools. And nearly 60% of secondary schools are academies.

Four years ago there were no primary academies. There are now almost 2000 and we have more open primary academies than secondaries.

We’re delighted that so many of you have seized this opportunity to gain more freedom and drive huge improvements.

I have seen myself, at Pimlico Academy, how this can really work. We took over a school which was a complete basket case and by using our freedoms we now have a very high-performing school. The statistics now clearly show the academies movement is working and really working well. In 2013:

  • 81% of pupils in primary converter academies achieved the expected level at KS4, compared to 76% in LA maintained schools
  • 68% of pupils in secondary converter academies achieved 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths, compared to 59% in LA maintained schools

Converter academies are much more likely to retain or improve their previous Ofsted rating under the new tougher Ofsted framework than LA maintained schools.

And the longer academies have been open, the better they get - sponsored academies open for 3 years are improving their GCSE performance at twice the rate of local authority school.

And academy convertors are way ahead of all other schools for their value added in academic subjects. Which augers extremely well for the forthcoming best 8 progress measure.

All of this means a massive congratulations and thank you to the people in this room.

I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll say it again. There’s never been a more important time in our country’s recent history to be working in education. And with your talent, ambition and commitment, you are leading the way. Providing many more children - particularly those from the poorest backgrounds - with a better start in life and a far brighter future.

Turning around schools that were once written off. Refusing to accept second best for any child, disadvantaged or not. Extending to all students the kind of opportunities the better off take for granted. Putting children in our school system always before the adults.

All of which, as we know, has driven rising standards and aspirations throughout the system as academy status becomes the norm.

The jobs you are doing are without question, in my view, the most important in our country at this time given the impact they have on our children, their future and the future of our country.

When I came into this job much of the growth in academies had been through chains. Many of these chains are either pausing or consolidating their growth and we are helping them with introducing business non-executives to their boards to help them handle their growth.

We are also making sure they are focused geographically on regional school clusters. Over the last year or so we have created over 250 new sponsors, including many outstanding schools, which are now setting to work in their regions to create local clusters. In our view it is absolutely clear the local school to school support model is the only one that will really work. We are seeing secondaries working with their local primaries and groups of primaries coming together to drive improvement, share expertise and best practice, providing professional development opportunities for staff and generating efficiency savings. The argument for academisation in primaries is considerably stronger given how small so many of them are and it has to be sensible for them to work together in groups.

We recently conducted an analysis of sponsors and one of the most interesting findings from this was that once a sponsor gets to about 5 or 6 schools there is whole new investment in infrastructure and capacity that is needed. We are seeing good sponsors really grasping this opportunity, upping their game and developing their boards with the right people to help them do this.

In many cases, brilliant sponsors are transforming schools that have been failing their pupils for years - sponsors like REAch2, currently our largest and most successful primary academy sponsor, the Harris Federation, Outwood Grange, Greenwood Dale and The Aldridge Foundation.

What’s especially exciting is that many academies and free schools are making these very significant strides by doing some fantastic, innovative things:

  • Trinity Academy Halifax, which has 6 terms and a shorter summer holiday. Results there have gone up 24% in 3 years
  • Harris Academy Bermondsey, whose pioneering Mentors from Business and Mentors from Universities programmes have helped boost results by 20%, also over 3 years
  • Ark’s King Solomon Academy in London, which uses its longer school day to focus particularly on English and mathematics as well as on providing a broad curriculum. The results of this can be seen in 2 ‘Outstanding’ judgements from Ofsted since opening
  • Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, a free school opened by the Dixons Academy Trust - of which Nick Weller here is executive principal which I visited recently. I was most impressed with its fantastic, innovative literacy and numeracy programmes, and the huge sense of high aspiration which pervades the school and it is no surprise that it was recently judged to be ‘Outstanding’ less than 2 years after opening

We’ve also had a big push on governance over the last year to focus governing bodies far more on skills. I personally believe we confuse representation and governance at our peril and there are much better ways for groups of parents, teachers and students to be heard and represented than having a few seats on a governing body.

Everybody on a governing body should have the requisite skills and focus on the core issues of the vision and ethos of the school, holding the headteacher to account for the progression and attainment of pupils and the performance management of his or her staff and money.

I also believe that far too many governing bodies are too big and I’m delighted to see that many multi-academy trusts are starting to use a model where they have 1 governing body over a number of schools, and therefore use their good governors more and also give them the opportunity to compare and contrast across schools which is a great learning experience for governors.

We are also seeing good academy groups really reviewing the governance structure of schools that come into their groups to make sure that they are properly focused on skills and often refreshing and downsizing the membership as a result.

So that covers where we are.

Turning to the future

I’m very pleased to announce today that we are making an extra £9 million available for the sponsor capacity fund in 2014 to 2015. This funding builds on the fund’s success over the past 2 years in supporting over 250 sponsors. I hope that this year’s fund will encourage others to follow in their footsteps and come forward where they are most needed.

Sponsors have told us that it would be helpful to have an idea about the level of funding they can expect. Which is why we’re moving this year to a system that awards successful applicants a flat-rate grant of £75,000.

Also, when 3 schools come together, at least 2 of which are primaries they can apply for a primary academy chain development grant of £100,000 to help set up joint processes and structures across the group of schools. Small primary schools joining the MAT will be able to claim an additional grant; and when there are more than 3 schools, further money is available up to a total of £150,000.

We are also moving to a much more autonomous and school-led academy system by bringing decision making much closer to schools through our introduction of 8 regional schools commissioners. We have already recruited 6 of these posts this month and I am delighted that 3 of the new RSCs are existing academy heads and 1 is the CEO of an academy sponsor.

  • In the South West we have appointed Sir David Carter, currently CEO of Cabot Learning Federation
  • In North east London and the East we have appointed Dr Tim Coulson, currently Director of Education at Essex County Council
  • In South London and the South East we have appointed Dominic Herrington, currently Director of Academies Group in the DfE
  • In the West Midlands we have appointed Pank Patel, currently Headteacher at Wood Green Academy
  • In North west London and South Central we have appointed Martin Post, currently Headmaster at Watford Grammar School for Boys
  • And in Lancashire and West Yorkshire we have appointed Paul Smith, currently Executive Principal of Parbold Douglas Church of England Academy and Teaching School

Now that there are 4,000 academies the programme is beginning to become too big to be run from Sanctuary Buildings and these regional schools commissioners will take decisions on the creation of new academies and sponsors, monitor performance and sanction intervention and will ensure the sponsor market can fulfil local need, but they will not interfere with the autonomy of academies and free schools that are performing well.

Each regional schools commissioner will be supported by a headteacher board of 6 or so members. They will use their expertise and local knowledge to advise the RSC on issues like monitoring performance, intervention in under-performing academies and decisions about the creation of new academies and sponsors.

Four members of each HTB will be elected by their peers. They will be selected from current headteachers of academies rated ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Good’ with outstanding leadership and management by Ofsted, or recent ex-heads of academies which met the same criteria. Other places on the board will be filled with appointed and co-opted members.

Elections to decide membership will begin in June. Please take these elections very seriously. This is your opportunity to shape the future of the academies system in your region and to get control of it. So whichever political party is in power in the future, your future is in your hands and not some local bureaucracy. So that sense of local autonomy applies not just to your school but to the whole academies system. If we can get real buy in into this, no one is going to dismantle it.

The Schools Commissioner Frank Green is hosting a seminar here this afternoon about RSCs and HTBs and I encourage you to go along to find out more. We will also be in touch again very shortly with further details about how people can stand for election and how they can vote.

The creation of these regional school commissioners and headteacher boards shows our absolute determination to create a truly autonomous school led system owned and run by the people that work in it.

I am delighted also to see other developments within or relevant to the academy system. I am particularly delighted that we are reaching cross-party consensus on so many of our changes. Clearly the academies argument is won, if it ever needed winning given that it was a Labour Party policy. And now we’ve reached the point where Tristram Hunt has changed his thinking on free schools. He originally said they would be parent led academies. Five minutes in the Department for Education, if he ever got there, and officials would have advised him that it is just some of those free schools that are mainly parent led which have had the most difficulties and he has now changed his tune to say they would be schools led by parents and social entrepreneurs - in other words free schools with a different name.

We have also introduced performance related pay which could be one of the biggest drivers for change in our school system, enabling the best teachers to be paid more. I have absolutely no doubt that many schools will initiate performance related pay ineffectively initially because it is something that they have never done before. However I regard this as very much work in progress and that over a period of years schools will develop their PRP structures to become much more effective.

I am also delighted to see in some of the academy groups subject specific teaching emerging in primary schools which for someone who comes from the independent sector and has seen work so successfully in the independent sector has to be the way forward.

One thing nobody should be under any illusion about is that is whichever government is in power there is going to be a shortage of money for schools in the foreseeable future. Schools should plan for flat line revenues which, bearing in mind that schools are having to do so much more, means they have to start thinking out of the box in terms of their financial management. There is a seminar later today entitled ‘Getting more for less: achieving academy procurement efficiencies’ which I would recommend but there are also many other ways schools can drive savings through innovative ways of working. In business if we are faced with flat lining revenues and more demanding customers we have to re-engineer the shop floor - something good business governors can really help with.

And of course our Progress 8 measure is coming which should focus schools on the attainment of all pupils rather than on what Tristram Hunt has described as the great crime of the C/D borderline.

And I am delighted to see many more schools engaging much more actively with their local business communities, something that all schools should do and which we are actively encouraging in our latest career guidance. This is something which you all know is part of being a good school - engaging with local business communities for careers guidance, work experience, mentoring, speakers etc.

I am delighted to see many excellent organisations emerging to help schools with this such as:

  • Business in the Community’s Business Class
  • Made in Sheffield and the Glass Academy in Sheffield
  • Make the Grade in Leeds
  • the Education and Employment Taskforce
  • Inspiring the Future
  • Speakers for Schools

I’d like to end by thanking everybody here for everything you are doing. A big thanks to Nick Weller for all the work he is doing in helping us with the Independent Academies Association and Tom Clark at FASNA for everything they are doing for us in the academies programme. But particularly to all of you here today.

As I have said this is a very exciting and important time to be involved in education. Huge change is taking place enabling us not just to unlock the power of education to change lives but also to convert the school system into a genuinely school-led system, not run by central or local bureaucrats but by school leaders themselves who must be the best people to drive it forward.

Thank you again for everything you are doing.

*[KS4}: key stage 4 *[GCSE]: general certificate of secondary education *[GCSE]: general certificates of secondary education

Published 1 May 2014