It’s a real pleasure to be here today at the Leicestershire Academies Spring Conference and let me wish you a happy anniversary on a year of collaboration!
It’s great to be here as a member of the government - as Secretary of State for Education.
And as MP for Loughborough too.
But actually I’m also just a local resident - a local mum, the wife of a school governor, and I feel privileged to be addressing you this morning.
This government has been very clear about its priorities for education in this Parliament, building on the work of the coalition government in the last. Putting it simply, we want to see excellence in education everywhere.
Our reforms have sought to unleash the potential in our schools and give them the freedom to operate in the best interests of their students and their communities.
The academies programme has been at the forefront of that work and under this government we expect to see it grow and expand until all schools become academies.
And that isn’t because of some ideological slavishness to the idea of the academies programme.
As you all know - academies really work. We now have 5,500 academies with 65% of all secondary schools as academies and 18% of primaries.
We know that unfortunately too close to home there are authorities and unions who oppose conversion to academy status - the city council tried hard to block the conversion of Rushey Mead, meaning pupils stayed in an underperforming school for over 2 years.
They were prepared to put children’s education to the background by calling strike action at Uplands School and orchestrating the mass resignation of staff.
I think it is wholly wrong to play politics with children’s education.
It shows the importance of our Education and Adoption Bill, which will allow us to intervene swiftly where schools are failing, to bring in new sponsors and I’ll be saying more about the bill in a few moments.
If we are to be a truly world-class education system then we need to make sure that academies performing well are able to share their knowledge and collaborate with each other.
I’m talking about schools like Humberstone Juniors. An academy converter in 2013 that has seen standards rise year on year with pupil attainment moving from 77% of pupils achieving level 4+ at key stage 2 in English and maths in 2012 to 95% achieving it last year.
That’s a massive increase and something to be celebrated but what’s even more impressive is that Humberstone Juniors is taking its approach to driving up standards and now helping other schools to do the same.
If academies are driving excellence in our schools then partnerships are the way to make sure it spreads.
I want to see all our young people - no matter where they are or what their background - accessing high-quality education which helps set them up for their futures.
I think the best way to improve the education system is through school-to-school support and it has become increasingly clear that the best way to do that, the most sustainable, the most accountable, the most efficient way to do that is through multi-academy trusts.
MATs have so many benefits. These range from sharing best teaching practice to the economies of scale. Then of course there are staffing arrangements which can be more flexible, allowing MATs to develop and retain the best teachers who have well defined careers paths which lead them to school leadership roles much sooner.
These benefits are already being seen here in Leicestershire.
I mentioned Humberstone Junior School a few moments ago and I am pleased to say that the Humberstone Multi-Academy Trust was approved as a sponsor last year and Humberstone Infant School is planned to join the trust this year.
New MATs are forming all the time.
Another example in Leicestershire is Wigston Academies Trust, formed less than a year ago when Abington Academy merged with Bushloe High School and took on sponsorship of Guthlaxton College. It had been judged as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted in 2014 with 2014 attainment results below expected standards. Wigston Academies Trust was able to implement an improvement plan which included staffing, leadership and the curriculum. Now called Wigston College, it is already showing impressive signs of improvement and what an exciting time it must be for the school.
That is the power MATs can have and we are offering various incentives to join them including the primary academy chain grants and the sponsor capacity fund which gave out over £11 million to 155 sponsors in the last year.
What is required is the vision for a grouping of schools collaborating in the pursuit of high performance and the leadership to make that vision a reality.
Leadership is so important in our schools and in our schools system. It is something DfE is very focused on. It is the impetus that keeps our schools on the path to success. We know that brilliant leadership teams can turn schools around at pace.
That’s why we are investing in the Future Leaders MAT CEO Course; in governors for schools; and Inspiring the future - an active programme to recruit more governors.
School governors are so important because of the skill, expertise and wisdom they bring to running schools.
We believe that the best run schools are those with highly skilled governors who can hold schools to account; play an active role in the path the school takes; and support heads and system leaders to create and sustain excellent educational outcomes.
We want those governors to have access to specific training too, so we have invested, through the National College of Teaching and Leadership, in governor training to help them understand key areas - like data.
If interpreted correctly it can have a huge impact on the success of a school or MAT.
We have local examples of fantastic leadership like the chief executive and head of Kibworth Church of England Primary, Paul Stone - a national leader of education.
Kibworth is a national support school and the lead school in the Affinity Teaching School Alliance. The alliance of 69 schools directly employs 6 national leaders of education, 8 local leaders of education and 40 specialist leaders of education.
Kibworth is part of the Discovery Schools Academy Trust - a strategic partner with the Flying High Trust and Candleby Lane Teaching School Alliance in Nottinghamshire.
Together they have formed, Inspiring Leaders, a not-for-profit partnership company which holds a licence to deliver National College of Leadership programmes, including the national professional qualifications for middle and senior leadership and for headship.
There’s no denying the wealth of talent that is being so widely shared and how amazing to think it is in our county.
Our Education and Adoption Bill, currently making its final passage through Parliament, seeks to create new powers to tackle failing and coasting schools - be they maintained schools or academies.
And that’s because our young people shouldn’t have to accept an education which doesn’t give them access to the kind of future they really want.
Should we stand by and allow any school to fail young people? Absolutely not.
The Education and Adoption Bill puts a duty on me, and my successor secretary of states, to make an academy order for all inadequate maintained schools, ensuring that swift action will always be taken where a maintained school has failed.
Crucially, the Education and Adoption Bill removes the requirement for consultation on whether a school should become an academy - to prevent the unnecessary, prolonged debates that have often prevented a school from being transformed quickly.
We have sought, however, to place a duty on sponsors to communicate with parents about their plans to improve the school, ensuring that - in all cases - parents are given the opportunity to understand just how a sponsor plans to transform their child’s school.
The Education and Adoption Bill, if passed by Parliament, will create a clearer path for all failing schools to be brought under new leadership and ensure that coasting schools are challenged to improve.
It is simply unacceptable that any young person should be held back from fulfilling their potential because their school was unable to provide them with the tools they needed to succeed.
We fully expect the Education and Adoption Bill to become law this year and we are excited about how it will feed into our priorities for the education system. We envisage a school-led system where schools voluntarily convert to become academies, form or join MATs, learn from teaching schools through teaching alliances and - where possible - join collaborative groups like yours.
We are all working towards the same goal and I believe government’s role is to support you in building that collaboration and capacity - because we know how difficult this is.
But where performance is unacceptably low we will use new powers to intervene to change leadership in schools.
We owe it to our young people - whose futures depend on it.
It really has been a pleasure to be here today. Conferences like this are in the spirit of collaboration we see as the future of our education system.
The Leicestershire Academies Group and others like it are crucial to realising that by sharing ideas and bringing together best practice on what really works for young people.
This government believes that it is through partnerships like yours that our education system can become truly school-led and truly world-class.