Academies regulatory and commissioning review
One of the aspects of the last year’s abandoned Schools Bill 2022 which has survived has been the proposed review of the academies regulatory and commissioning system. This work was carried out over the summer of 2022 and the final outcome of that review has just been published (28 March 2023).
In her introduction to the 52 page review, Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System and Student Finance, sees this as the next phase in consolidating the effective performance of high quality trusts. This is by identifying good practice and successes in our leading existing trusts, which she describes as a ‘combination of strong leadership, strong organisational culture and resilient systems’. This is not, she says, an overhaul of the current system but rather an evolution of the government’s approach as the trust sector matures.
The review considers the achievements of the academy system thus far. It concludes that the academies programme has successfully addressed three fundamental weaknesses in our education system.
- It has created a mechanism to address individual school failure where once local authorities lacked the capacity to do so.
- It has created freedoms for leaders and teachers to innovate, identify and adopt effective practices.
- The establishment of MATs has created a way to scale effective leadership and governance across multiple schools, widen career development opportunities and improve system resilience.
Baroness Barran believes that the best MATs already achieve great outcomes and suggests that if all children receive a comparable quality of education, then standards will rise nationally, especially for disadvantaged pupils. This does not mean that there should be total uniformity – the government would wish to foster a diversity of models and scales of trust, including those with faith schools, special schools and alternative provision.
A clear diagrammatic representation of the policy can be found on pages 12 and 13 of the document. The recommendations of the review are then set out and explained in detail in the three main chapters of the document. The document can be found here.
Chapter 1 – Making regulatory oversight simpler, more risk-based and more proportionate
The review recommends a simple proportionate regulatory strategy which focuses on the right risks and the right level of accountability. This will protect the space for trusts to innovate and remove disincentives for trusts to grow. It involves:
- Embedding the clearer points of contact and DfE responsibilities set out in the ESFA’s Arm’s Length Body Review.
- A simplification of the Academy Trust Handbook.
- Clarifying the DfE’s approach to complaints so that the process is less duplicative for parents, schools and trusts.
- Working with Ofsted to continue to tackle educational underperformance.
Chapter 2 – Building a clear approach to trust quality and commissioning
The reviewers set out how the approach to commissioning will be reformed to recognise trust quality better. This means making better and more transparent commissioning decisions informed by a clear articulation of what it means to be a high quality trust. This will be done in three stages:
- Assess strategic needs.
- Consider quality factors.
- Reach recommendations.
The DfE will set out proposed descriptions of trust quality in April 2023 and work with the sector to finalise them in June 2023.
Chapter 3 – Supporting all trusts to adopt effective practice, facilitating a dynamic and self-improving system
The third chapter sets out how the DfE will continue to support a transition to a dynamic, self-improving system by sharing effective and tested practices, supporting trust improvement, establishing peer-to-peer networks and creating new professional development courses and qualifications. This will include:
- Continuing to deliver the DfE’s Trust and School Improvement Offer.
- Establishing a MAT CEO Leadership Development Programme to train the next generation of MAT leaders and chairs, starting in January 2024.
- Supporting the development of MAT Chief Financial Officers by rolling out a new mentoring programme from summer 2023.
- Continuing to support trust growth and improvement through a multi-year Trust Capacity Fund.
Work will begin immediately. Over the months of spring 2023, the DfE will work with stakeholders to refine the updated quality-focused commissioning process and publish the results in consolidated guidance in June 2023.The regulatory approach will also be streamlined over the course of 2023.
The three main chapters of the review are followed by Annex A, which sets out a detailed, partly diagrammatic overview of the current state-funded education system.
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