Time to make the big decision

As the vice chair of the governing body of a secondary school I’ve recently been leading the governors through the process of deciding how to become an academy, and which multi academy trust (MAT) to go with.

We realise that we do have to become an academy shortly - government policy has been going in that direction for some time and this accelerated with the Chancellor’s announcement this week of plans to convert all schools to academy status.

Our school is a very large, mixed secondary in a selective, urban area. It achieved good results in 2015 and was judged to be ‘good’ following a recent Ofsted inspection.

We’re in a good place but that doesn’t lessen the scale of the decision that we have to make. So we’re trying to make the decision making process as smooth as we can through being very systematic about what we do.

Our first step was to establish an academy task group made up of governors, the head and business manager. They’ve set about several tasks, looking at the school’s vision and values, researching the options in terms of academy status, doing a SWOT analysis on the options available and contacting the Department for Education for advice.

We understand that the days of ‘stand-alone’ academies have gone and we need to join other schools in a MAT. We have several offers on the table:

  • Join the local pyramid of infant and junior schools
  • Join up with other secondary schools locally
  • Become a sponsored academy with a local secondary sponsor
  • Join up with a big national chain
  • Become part of a smaller chain that has schools in the neighbourhood
  • Join the local grammar schools
  • Work with an ecumenical secondary school

We’ve realised that this has to be very carefully planned as the decision will be final and will affect the school well into the future. We have been thinking about the effect MAT membership might have on the lives of the families as well as pupils and staff. We’ve carefully analysed the pros and cons of each option. Typical pros include:

  • Families will benefit by the same organisation leading their children’s education
  • Opportunities for teacher swaps and rich opportunities for professional development
  • A wider range of Post-16 provision over the group of schools
  • Addressing recruitment demands through a wider pool of teaching and support posts
  • Some financial savings through sharing posts

Some arguments against include:

  • We might lose the original identity of the school
  • Our successful financial planning might be adversely affected by other schools
  • The good reputation of the school might be affected through difficulties in other MAT members
  • We don’t want to go through a period of huge change that may bring little benefit for the pupils

Our latest strategy is to list all the essential features (such as vision and values) of the school and then consider these against each MAT option. We think we have come down to two viable options and will continue researching these. The process is taking time but we have to be thorough and careful as the decision is a big one. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Jeff Hart is director of school improvement at Best Practice Network. If you’re now considering academy status, Best Practice Network’s specialist team of academy advisers can provide the support you require. Please contact Jeff to find out more.

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