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Schools White Paper Published - What Does this Mean for the Academies Programme?

on Tuesday, 29 March 2022.

This week brought the publication of the DfE's White Paper: Opportunity For All - Strong Schools with Great Teachers for Your Child. We focus on Chapter 4, which deals with the school system and predominantly, the academies programme.

The Headline Priorities

The Paper itself is framed around two key ambitions that by 2030:

  • 90% of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by a third.
  • In secondary schools, the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths will increase from 4.5 in 2019 to 5.

As part of the Government drive to achieve these ambitions and as already widely reported,  their desire is that all schools will be in or joining a strong trust and that they achieve a "fully trust led system" by 2030.

The rationale for this is articulated in a separate document annexed to the paper, 'The Case for a Fully Trust-Led System' and reference is made in the Paper to the ability of strong multi academy trusts to:

  • "use their collaborative structure to deliver outstanding literacy and numeracy outcomes for their children"
  • "form communities of practice, sharing evidence-based approaches and benefitting from high quality professional development to improve outcomes for children"
  • "achieve economies of scale, sharing resources, centralising functions, and ensuring robust financial governance, in order to build resilience and save time and money to reinvest into education"

Reference is also made to the following statistic: "More than 7 out of 10 sponsored academies are now rated Good or Outstanding compared to about 1 in 10 of the local authority maintained schools they replaced."

The three targets under this chapter are described as follows:

  • a fully trust led system with a single regulatory approach, which will drive up standards, through the growth of strong trusts and the establishment of new ones, including trusts established by local authorities
  • a clear role for every part of the school system, with local authorities empowered to champion the interests of children and a new collaborative standard requiring trusts to work constructively with all other partners
  • education Investment Areas to increase funding and support to areas in most need, plus extra funding in priority areas facing the most entrenched challenges.

What Is Proposed?

The Paper comments that multi academy trusts or 'MATs' typically start to develop central capacity when they have more than 10 schools (and / or where they serve a minimum 7,500 pupils) and accordingly:

  • maintained schools will be expected to convert within a MAT
  • standalone conversions are highly unlikely (as has been the case for a while) although stand-alone schools might be permitted in the free school context
  • single academies will be expected to transfer to a MAT
  • smaller MATs will be encouraged to merge with other MATs or secure growth on a school by school basis

Whilst there will be no widespread forced academisation, the Government will shortly be consulting on directing schools that have received two consecutive below 'good' judgements from Ofsted into MATs. They will also consult on the exceptional circumstances in which a good school can request that they be moved to a stronger MAT.

There will be no maximum size of MAT and there will be a limit on the proportion of schools in any local area that can be run by an individual MAT.

The Government has already identified its 55 Education Investment Areas or 'EIAs' ( areas where outcomes are identified as being the poorest and where there is most urgent need for intervention) and this is where efforts will initially be targeted. To that end they have committed:

  • £86m in trust capacity funding over the next three years, with a particular focus on EIAs
  • an additional £40m to provide further support to the 24 Priority EIAs to address entrenched underperformance

Consultation on a direct national funding formula will commence in the autumn.

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What Does this Mean for Local Authorities?

Local authorities will be able to establish new MATs where too few strong trusts exist. Safeguards will be put in place to manage any potential conflicts of interest and the different roles MATs and local authorities play in the school system. This will include limiting local authority involvement on the board.

They will also introduce new powers enabling the Secretary of State to bring a local authority’s maintained schools into the academy system where a local authority has requested this as part of their local strategic plans.

Other Relevant Proposals

These include:  

  • a new multi academy trust Chief Executive Officer development programme for established leaders, such as executive headteachers and senior staff in trusts
  • the opening of a targeted number of 16-19 free schools to increase the proportion of disadvantaged children accessing university
  • bringing forward legislation to ensure that statutory freedoms and protections that apply to Church and faith maintained schools also apply to academies with a religious character
  • options for financial support for Dioceses and other religious authorities in the development of their trusts (and the ability to continue opening new schools)
  • improved access to specialist provision, (including £2.6bn in high needs capital investment over the next three years to deliver new places i.e. new special and alternative provision free schools, and improve existing provision) for children and young people with SEND
  • the continued presumption against closure of rural schools
  • ensuring that selective schools are secure within MATs
  • as a reflection of a trust's civic responsibility, a new 'collaborative standard' –requiring that trusts work constructively with each other, their local authorities and the wider public and third sectors

Changes to Regulation

The requirements on academy trusts (which are currently set out in a mixture of legislation and various models of the standard funding agreements) are to be consolidated into "statutory academy trust standards".

New statutory intervention powers are proposed to deal with trusts which fail to achieve the 'expected outcomes'. Regional Schools Commissioners will be known as 'Regional Directors' - overseeing 'Regions Groups' (which bring together functions currently distributed across the DfE and the ESFA) which will 'drive improvement, expanding the reach of our strongest trusts and proactively intervening where trusts are not providing the excellent education we expect'. The Groups will consist of nine regions, aligned to the geographies used across the rest of the Government.

A regulatory review, looking at accountability and regulation, will be launched in May 2022 which will consider how MATs will be inspected and held to account. Clarity is to be provided as to how 'trust strength' is defined - a definition which will then be used to assess trusts for growth.

The Government has also committed to establish a new system of proactive assurance with Local Safeguarding Partnerships commissioning safeguarding audits every three years. This system is also said to cover the academy trust standards referred to above.

The Various Roles Within the School System

The Paper seeks to provide clarity on the roles of the different players in the school system. Local authorities will continue to have a key role in ensuring the sufficiency of school places and coordinating admissions, safeguarding and attendance in their areas. The SEND review further confirms how they are to be held accountable for delivering their SEND responsibilities.

The DfE is then responsible for ensuring that that these places are provided by the best possible schools. Regional Directors will continue to make decisions about the expansion of existing schools, the allocation of schools and proposals for new schools.  

Further guidance and support, as well as how the sector can work together to support continuous improvement, is expected to be published in summer 2022.

Attend Our Briefings

In association with the Institute of Business Leaders (ISBL), we are hosting a series of webinars to help you navigate some of the legal and practical issues arising out of the White Paper and the academisation agenda. For session 1, delegates have the ability to choose the webinar which best fits their school or trust's circumstances (be it as a maintained school, single academy trust or multi academy trust). In session 2, we are hosting a panel session where delegates from Session 1 can come together and have the opportunity to ask our panel of expert their questions. We'd be delighted if you are able to join us.

See below the list of our sessions:

If you would like to discuss what the White Paper means for your school or trust, please contact Chloe Brunton in our Academies team on 07920 281889, or complete the form below.

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