The challenge of starting a new school with its own distinctive character has been met by some remarkable pioneering social entrepreneurs in the free school movement. Another 93 free schools opened last week.
However, it is also a great challenge, perhaps an even greater challenge, to take over a failing school and turn it around. Typically, such new management will be resisted by the unions, by the local council (especially if Labour-run), by many of the existing governors, and the staff usually including the incumbent head. They will shout and shake their fists. Thus these are forced takeovers; what in the corporate world would be caused "hostile takeovers".
At the time of the last election, 203 schools were sponsored academies. There are now 858 – including over a hunderd more from last week.
For secondary schools if fewer than 40 per cent of pupils are achieving five GCSEs of grade C or above in subjects including English and maths that is the trigger for a takeover. Next year the trigger will be 50 per cent. Under Labour it was 30 per cent.
Under Labour there were no sponsored academies in the primary sector. There was no threshold which meant they would be put under new management. Just carry on failing. Now a primary school with fewer than 60 per cent of pupils achieving the basic standard of level 4 in reading, writing and maths (that increases to 65 per cent next year), and fewer pupils than average making the expected levels of progress between KS1 and KS2 will be taken over.
However, it is also true that Lord Adonis as Schools Minister under the Labour Government did well to achieve as much as he did, given how protective the Left is towards low educational standards.
In his book Education, Education, Education, Lord Adonis rightly praised the Outwood Academies under the "inspirational leadership" of Michael Wilkins. This chain grew out of Outwood Grange School near Wakefield.
This year that school had a 100% A Level pass rate. Also 100% of pupils achieved five or more A*-C grades in their GCSEs. All the more extraordinary given that this is one of the largest schools in the country with over 2,400 pupils.
The Outwood Trust gradually increased its number of schools. Last week a failing school in Middlesbrough was reborn as Outwood Academy Ackland with a new headmaster, a new uniform, a new name and new policies.
In January they take over at City School in Sheffield.
The Trust already has the following schools:
- Outwood Grange Academy
- Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster
- Outwood Academy Valley in Worksop
- Outwood Academy Portland in Worksop,
- Outwood Academy Ripon
- Oatwood Academy Brumby in Scunthorpe
- Outwood Primary Academy Ledger Lane
- Outwood Primary Academy Kirkhamgate
Mr Wilkins has told the Yorkshire Post that they had declined offers to run academies as far afield as Norfolk:
“All of our academies are no more than an hour and a quarter drive up the A1 to Teesside and down it to Worksop and across to Scunthorpe."
“The reason we have Outwood in the name of all of our schools is not because we are interested in empire building but because we want to be held accountable. We want people to know that we are in these schools.”
The Outwood Academy Adwick is in Ed Miliband's Doncaster North constituency. In 2005, the year that Ed Miliband was elected MP, that school was a council-run comprehensive called North Doncaster Technology College with 23 per cent getting five or more good GCSEs including English and maths.
This summer under its new auspices that figure rose to 60 per cent.
Why won't Mr Miliband welcome the dramatic increase in the number of sponsored academies and celebrate the successes that are achieved? Why doesn't he want to press ahead with more rather than rein them in?