'Try before you buy' - Norfolk schools offered academy link-up trial
- Credit: St Benet’s MAT
Norfolk schools that are not part of academy trusts will be offered a period of “try before you buy” in an effort to entice more of them to leave council control, the education secretary has said.
In a speech to the Confederation of School Trusts' virtual conference, Gavin Williamson said all schools should join academy chains in a bid to replace the current "pick and mix" system with a "single model" school system.
He said the pandemic had shown that it is "no longer viable for schools to be single entities" and announced plans for a scheme to allow schools to link up with a multi-academy trust (MAT) for a trial period.
Mr Williamson said: "I see no reason why every local authority-maintained school in the country shouldn't consider taking up this opportunity as soon as possible to put them in the best position to decide whether joining a specific trust is right for them."
Academies, which receive their funding directly from the Government rather than through a local authority and have more freedom than council-run schools, were first introduced by the Labour government, but the programme accelerated under the Conservatives.
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Former local head Geoff Barton, who is now general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union, said he supported the aim of “increasing and strengthening collaboration between schools” but was concerned that the government is “obsessed with the narrow idea that this has to be done through MAT expansion”.
He said: “The try-before-you-buy proposal for schools to partner with a MAT on a trial basis before deciding whether or not to join is a good enough idea but this already happens informally and we are not sure that the government’s proposals really add up to very much at all.”
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Richard Cranmer, chief executive of the St Benet’s Multi Academy Trust, which includes schools in Diss, Harleston, Garboldisham and Newton Flotman, said he welcomed the announcement that schools will be offered financial support to form a partnership with a trust to explore how a permanent arrangement might work.
He said: “St Benet’s MAT already works in this way with St Mary’s Junior in Long Stratton and looks forward to expanding the concept with other schools.
“It is abundantly clear that being part of a family enables the sharing of expertise and working collaboratively which in turn leads to improved educational experiences of children within those schools.”
Oliver Burwood, chief executive of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT), which runs 36 schools, said it had already developed its own ‘try before you buy’ Associate Membership Scheme that “allows schools to experience what working with our fantastic school improvement and operational teams are like, before taking the important decision”.
He said: “We would like to speak to any interested schools about this option, particularly in light of today's announcement and the additional funding that will support schools to undertake this work at no additional cost to themselves.”