Sir Michael Wilshaw has published his latest monthly commentary which highlights what's good about the best academy chains, following his devastating critique of the worst ones.
He celebrates the successes of the seven chains and draws some broad conclusions about why they are successful:
- an ability to recruit and retain powerful and authoritative executive leaders, with a clear vision for bringing about higher standards
- a well-planned, broad and balanced curriculum that equips pupils with a strong command of the basics of English and mathematics, as well as the confidence, ambition and team-work skills to succeed in later life
- a commitment to provide a high-quality education for all pupils, in a calm and scholarly atmosphere
- investment in professional development of teachers and the sharing of knowledge and expertise across a strong network of constituent schools
- a high priority given to initial teacher training and leadership development to secure a pipeline of future talent
- clear frameworks of governance, accountability and delegation
- effective use of assessment information to identify, escalate and tackle problems quickly
- a cautious and considered approach to expansion
"In all but 1 of the 7 trusts, the chief executive's role is performed by a former headteacher..." says former headteacher Sir Michael Wilshaw, to readers' surprise.
His not-so-veiled criticism of government policy on academy expansion is saved till the end:
"these strong performing trusts have resisted the temptation to expand too quickly and spread themselves too thinly across a wide geographical area."
So, if he's right that successful chains grow slowly (and bad ones grow too fast) then the academy system is heading for very serious problems. Not so very long ago Head RSC Sir David Carter made it clear that about 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be created by 2020 with smaller chains having to grow to accommodate more schools: "My challenge is we are probably going to need some of our trusts to grow again. The three to six-academy trusts will struggle to be sustainable. We need them to grow, to 10, to 15, to 20."
But maybe disaster will be avoided, since there is little evidence that the academy bandwagon can continue to roll on at the same speed as before.
Government policy on academisation remains cloudy given that the Nicky Morgan's White Paper has been overtaken by the Maggie May/Nick Timothy consultation on selective education and Justine Greening isn't saying much (probably wisely).
Then there is the seldom mentioned problem of the absence any new academy sponsors and the growing logjam of schools waiting for forced academisation to be enacted.
And continuing embarrassing headlines about free school proprietors being jailed and the funding of a flagship MAT being stopped because of non-compliance.
All of which is just a sideshow against the great Brexit extravaganza. Whichever way that goes, it will have much bigger implications for schools than any report by HMCI or Green Paper.
On another matter...
I've been pondering the Shami Chakrabati question and trying to work out what I think about it and why. Until now I have held her in great esteem...well, my faith in her was a bit shaken when she accepted that peerage via Jeremy Corbyn and then she admitted to Robert Peston that she sends her son to Dulwich College (where Farage was once a pupil) but isn't in favour of selective education.
I think the problem is that she has chosen to go into politics.
She is a well-educated, intelligent woman with vast experience of the law and a fine record of protecting our liberties against the unrelenting bile of most of the media. But she must therefore be aware of the growth of inequality in the UK and its deleterious effects on society. I assume she has read "The Spirit Level".
As a private individual, she can choose to send her son to whichever school she likes and as a wealthy person can choose to pay for it. But in doing that, she must be aware that she is perpetuating the pernicious class and social divides and inequality that blights our country.
Ah, but doesn't everyone want the best for their children? Isn't it right to give them the advantages you never had, if you can? Parents shouldn't sacrifice their children on the altar of their political beliefs, should they?
It's a dilemma, for sure, if you have a choice. It's not a dilemma for those who have no choice, though. And those are by and large the people Labour claim to represent.
Is the personal also the political? Wasn't it Gandhi who said be the change you want to see - or something like that?
The ordinary Josephine with money doesn't have to face the prospect of their personal choices being held up for comparison against their professed political and ethical beliefs. But if you choose to go into politics, you must expect to make sacrifices and be challenged over any apparent hypocrisy, which is what happened to Shami.
The thing I'm most upset about is that she must have seen this coming, had time to marshal her arguments, like the great lawyer she is, and should have presented a cogent, ethical argument supporting her choices. But in this she failed spectacularly. And showed that she is, indeed, a massive hypocrite.
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