Damian Hinds is Education Secretary and MP for East Hampshire.
Trust. In the education world it has two distinct, yet related, meanings. One is the trust we place in head teachers, school leaders, and teachers to run schools and teach our children effectively.
The other is in terms of Academy Trusts: charitable organisations given the freedom to improve standards in the most appropriate way for that school environment.
Together they form the academies programme, which hands power back to schools and school leaders to make the right decisions for their pupils and communities, while providing teachers with mentoring, training, and the opportunity to share good practices.
I believe the programme is working: secondary school data out today show that converter academies achieve results well above the national average, and research out yesterday showed that standards are rising faster in the majority of sponsored academies than in similar council run schools.
This is great news for pupils, as figures out this week show more than 50 per cent of children in state-funded schools in England are now studying at one of the country’s 8,000 academies or free schools.
At this key milestone, we can be proud that generations of children stand a better chance of receiving a high-quality education that meets their needs, interests and abilities.
When the Conservatives came to government in 2010, the academies programme had already been around for a decade, with the aim of improving pupil performance and breaking the cycle of low expectations. The first academy opened in 2002 and 203 schools, mostly in inner cities, had been opened by the time Labour left office. Labour MP’s were praising their results from the rooftops.
Then the Conservatives came to power, with the inimitable Michael Gove as Education Secretary, and “rocket boosters” were put under the Academies programme, with more than 1,000 academies converting by August 2011.
The idea behind academies is simple really: teachers and school leaders know best how to run schools. This is backed up by research from the OECD. It found the creation of more autonomous schools improves outcomes, as school leaders have the freedom to innovate in curriculum, instruction, and governance.
We now have a system where a school can convert to be an academy – taking advantage of the autonomy and freedom that brings. Or a failing school is issued an academy order and brokered into an Academy Trust, to get the help and support it needs to improve – a so called ‘sponsored academy’.
Hillcrest Academy primary in the Chapeltown area of Leeds – one of the most deprived areas of the country, with historically poor outcomes for pupils – has seen a huge turnaround thanks to academisation. Hillcrest had 14 head teachers in 20 years, and had declined from a ‘good’ school in 2007, to ‘requires improvement’ in 2010, to ‘inadequate’ in 2013. In the space of two and a half years, after joining the GORSE Academies Trust, it received an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted, and hit has above-average reading, writing and maths skills and below-average pupil absence.
Converting into an academy also works for schools who are already doing well, but want to take advantage of the greater responsibility that comes with academisation. The Bicknell School, a special school in Bournemouth that had been rated ‘good’ in two inspections, became Tregonwell Academy in 2011. In its first inspection it was judged ‘outstanding’ in all areas, and has benefited ever since from putting teachers in the driving seat. It was inspected again in January 2018 and has retained its outstanding judgement.
Despite the positive trend for academies, Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, wants to end the academies programme and bring all schools back under local authority control. This would see a Labour-led “National Education Service”, with the government defining the curriculum for all schools and freedoms for heads stripped away. I wrote about this on ConHome when she first made the announcement, but to remind readers exactly what she said:
“We’ll start by immediately ending the Tories’ academy and free schools programmes. They neither improve standards nor empower staff or parents… we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.”
Not even wanting to get into what a common rule book written by Jeremy Corbyn would look like, in turning their back on academies Labour are turning their back on the freedom and innovation that have seen standards in our schools rise – putting ideology before what is right for our children.
Not only are academies and free schools some of the best-performing in the country, they can completely overturn expectations for entire communities where low achievement and stifled hope and opportunity had been the norm.
The Conservatives’ trust in educators to have the freedom to run schools in a way that best suits their local needs has paid dividends. I firmly believe in the academies programme, and that is why I will continue to advocate for the opportunities that becoming an academy can bring.