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Khadeem Duncan-Banerjee is Founding CEO of Amadeus Learning Partnership and a Board Director at Nene Education Trust (NET).

It’s March 17 2016, and Nicky Morgan, the then Education Secretary, released her department’s groundbreaking white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere, paving the way for Parliament to legislate for all schools in England to convert to academy status as part of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) by 2022.

But after failing to secure support from influential backbench Tory MPs and blue councils, by October of that year the Government was forced to ditch these plans completely.

Yet it is evident that it remains this Government’s ambition for every school to convert to academy status at some point. The benefits for schools in joining MATs are substantial – enabling more effective school-to-school support and school improvement, cutting costs on back-office services and procurement, swift intervention to prevent declining standards, enabling communities of subject knowledge and best practice sharing, greater career development opportunities and retention for exceptional teachers, and so much more.

Most importantly, all these combined benefits lead to the transformation of life chances for children and young people across our country. So why aren’t headteachers and governors biting Nadhim Zahawi’s hand off to become academies? Let’s take a look.

Our current education system is complex, lopsided, and fragmented. 55 per cent of all pupils in state-funded schools are educated in academies, but only 43 per cent of state-funded schools are academies. As a percentage, there are many more secondary-phase academies than primary, but a startling statistic is that 37 per cent of all academy trusts have no more than five academies in them.

Long-term sustainability has become an issue for many maintained schools that still rely on local authorities for generally diminishing support. I believe we must move towards a more coherent, strategically-focused system based on the needs of communities and on the requirements for educational provision in a local area, and in which collaboration and partnerships secure the best outcomes for all pupils.

Academies are the future, but many opponents of the academies programme (including some Tory councils) believe that MATs aren’t effectively overseen, and that when problems arise there is not a visible and accessible individual they can approach and hold to account. And in many ways they are correct.

The current system of oversight through regional schools’ commissioners was designed for a schools system which has now become vastly different. There were 3,287 academies in 2014 compared to 9,752 in 2021, which of course would more than double under a fully academised system.

The enormous RSC areas bear little resemblance to the geographical or even cultural boundaries of the actual English regions and I believe this can create problems when attempting to design local strategy and policy that makes a real impact in a reasonable timeframe.

It also means that they are excluded from playing a leading role in shaping developments in the wider education and skills system within their regions and as a result could be missing a brilliant opportunity to be advocating for schools in the ears of regional policy makers.

I believe that to build a transparent, collaborative, accountable and intuitive fully academised schools system with every stakeholder given a fair and meaningful role, there can only be one solution – devolution!

The Government should consider how it can devolve responsibility for the management and oversight of the schools system to regional mayors and county councils with every school becoming an academy. This would enable democratically-elected individuals to make key decisions about where and when schools move between academy trusts and the genuine compatibility of those matches, and to intervene with local solutions when standards slip. This would also provide the public with a visible democratically elected individual they can hold to account for the outcomes of the schools system in their area.

Furthermore, this would also allow greater strategic planning, linking-up with skills, local industrial strategies, and other economic development initiatives to create combined cross-sector levelling-up programmes. 41 per cent of the English population live in an area with mayoral devolution (10 combined authorities) and a significant area of the remainder of the country is covered by 24 county councils (made up of 181 district councils). So whilst this isn’t a perfect solution, I believe it would provide benefit to the majority.

For areas that are not covered by a mayoral combined authority or county council (of which there are 58 unitary authorities) similar provisions could be established to ensure that the same ethos of transparency, democracy, accountability, and collaboration is achieved.

Britain is going through immense change as we seek to recover and build back better from the pandemic. We have an incredibly unique opportunity to design a better schools system that works for all. I say let’s take it. It’s time now to leave the outdated and fragmented approach behind and look to a brighter future where all schools can work together in likeminded families, delivering life changing opportunities for their children and young people; and operating under an oversight system which is driven by effective local decision making made by the people for the people. As I said, devolution is the key!