The role freedom and autonomy has played in school improvement

 It is a pleasure to be back at the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools - National Association conference. Over a quarter of a century, FASNA has fought for greater school autonomy.

FASNA has seen a large increase in the autonomy of schools over its lifetime - and particularly over the last 6 years. And with increasing autonomy has come an ever greater role for FASNA as it represents its members’ interests and promotes autonomy for schools to enable them to innovate and raise standards for their pupils.

There are almost 6,000 academies open today, up from around 200 open in 2010. This government has accelerated the process of providing autonomy to schools. This government believes that autonomous schools - within a strong framework of accountability - are the best vehicle to support teachers and headteachers to improve pupil outcomes.

The government is committed to opening 500 new free schools by 2020 and as the Secretary of State [for Education] has made clear, we want to see all schools, over time, become academies. It is our hope and expectation that schools will want to take advantage of the benefits that academy status can bring.

An academised system allows successful schools to consolidate their success and spread excellence across the country. The great success stories of the academy and free schools programme are examples of this. Take Harris Academy Battersea with a provisional Progress 8 score of 1.15, one of just 7 schools to achieve that level of progress for its pupils. This school is providing life-changing education to its pupils. But the pupils of Harris Academy Battersea are not the only beneficiaries. Other schools that are members of the Harris Federation are also benefiting from sharing resources and expertise with this leading school.

Sir Daniel Moyniham and the Harris Federation team are rightly proud of the record of having only received ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgements in their academies. This is testament to the hard work of the teachers and headteachers in those schools, and it is also evidence of the power of schools sharing what works. Schools adopted into the Harris Federation are provided with curricula and school systems that have been proven to work. As the academies programme continues to expand, more schools will benefit from adopting and sharing successful practice.

As FASNA has argued for a quarter of a century, freedom for schools and academies facilitates innovation and drives up standards.

This government will continue to convert all schools that are failing, so that they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor. But we want to see ‘good’ schools choosing academy status as a positive choice. We will be building capacity across the schools system in order to ensure that these schools thrive, including through growing new multi-academy trusts, so that they can share what works with other schools.

But there are numerous other reasons for schools to consider academisation. The MAT structure can be particularly appealing to small schools and primary schools, which can call on the expertise of the MAT for back-office arrangements, resulting in more money to spend in the classroom, and to increase and improve the breadth of their curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

There are now 1,713 sponsor academies, many of which have replaced schools that have failed over many years to provide a good enough education for their pupils. These schools are often situated in the most persistently deprived areas of our country.

There are many examples of sponsor academies that have transformed schools up and down the country. Charter Academy Portsmouth - sponsored by Ark - serves a pupil body with almost 60% of pupils eligible for the pupil premium. Pupils living in Portsmouth, thanks to this success of the sponsor academies programme, now have a secondary school that boasts a strong Progress 8 score of 0.29 - significantly above the national average. The school offers over half its pupils the opportunity to study the EBacc - again well above the national average.

There are numerous success stories, but the government is clear that where underperformance occurs, including in academies, we will take swift and robust action.

We are also identifying coasting schools for the first time - that is schools that are not doing enough to challenge and enable their pupils to fulfil their potential. Where this is happening we want to ensure schools receive the support they need.

Regional schools commissioners will assess how well a coasting school is supporting its pupils; whether it has a sufficient plan to improve; and whether it has the capacity to improve. Once the final 2016 results are published in the new year and the coasting regulations are made this autumn, the first coasting schools will be contacted.

The government is clear that school autonomy works best within a system that holds schools and multi-academy trusts to account. We will continue to promote autonomy within an intelligent accountability framework that ensures action is taken to challenge underperformance.

But we will continue to promote academisation because the associated school freedoms can stimulate innovation and sharing that drives improvement. We know this is the case because we can see it in the current system.

The Learning Academy Partnership has worked with the Teacher Development Trust to share subject expertise across the 4 primary schools in the MAT. Using the new CPD standards developed for the Department for Education by David Weston, these schools - and others around the country - are empowered to develop their staff in order to further raise the attainment of their pupils.

Ilsham Church of England Primary School - one of the schools in the MAT - in recognition of the evidence in favour of systematic synthetic phonics, has invested in training for staff in delivering ‘Read Write Inc’ effectively. By freeing schools to innovate, the government has set the profession free to self-improve.

Schools are not simply motivated to develop greater staff training for the benefit of their pupils - although this is undoubtedly the primary ambition. High-quality training and staff development is important for retention. As Sir Richard Branson said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

But academies enjoy even greater freedoms that allow them to recruit and retain teachers. Pay freedom allows academies to offer more attractive salaries in shortage subjects, or to candidates who might otherwise be tempted by a career in another profession.

The academies movement has coincided with - or perhaps even galvanised - a wider movement in education.

Teachers are now leading the education debate. No longer are the great debates of education being held behind closed doors, often far removed from the realities on the ground in schools. Instead, world-leading work is being undertaken by teachers, working in schools, alongside academics.

Daisy Christodoulou and Dr Chris Wheadon are working together on improving the assessment of written work in English. Through No More Marking and their work on comparative judgement, they are compellingly demonstrating a potential future for assessment in primary and secondary English.

The growing role of ResearchED, in this country and around the world, demonstrates how the dynamic of power in education has changed. Teachers present alongside researchers. Debate centres on the reality in classrooms and practical solutions to problems faced by teachers. At the ResearchED national conference - where I had the opportunity to speak about the importance of evidence-based practice - Ofsted’s National Director for Education, Sean Harford, and soon to be Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, joined a panel discussion about the future direction of school inspections.

These are not the only examples. Michaela Community School is arguably using freedoms more radically than any other school in the country. Marking is kept to a minimum; behaviour is immaculate; the school day has been extended; the teachers all proudly teach from the front; testing is frequent; the curriculum is knowledge-rich; and the results are extraordinary - as anyone who has visited the school will testify.

But Michaela has impacted more widely on the teaching profession. Demand to debate the ideas that underpin the school are demonstrated by their sold-out debates and their upcoming book, which examines what makes that school so different. The freedoms that allowed Katharine Birbalsingh to create the best school she could, will do more than change the lives of the pupils fortunate enough to attend: it will also raise the bar for what is possible for a school to achieve.

It is not for the sake of innovation that academies now enjoy greater freedoms than schools of the past, but because of what results from this autonomy.

City Academy Hackney, King Solomon Academy and Harris Academy Battersea all registered Progress 8 scores above 1, meaning pupils in these schools register, on average, a grade higher in each of the 8 GCSE subjects than similarly able pupils in other schools. The average Progress 8 score is 0. Just 5% of schools in England registered a provisional Progress 8 score above 0.5, whilst 10% registered a score lower than -0.5.

The characteristics that are consistent across these schools - notably a knowledge-rich curriculum and meticulous behaviour systems - will be adopted by schools across the country as they seek to replicate the results of these extraordinary schools.

And we are seeing improved results from our academy programme already. Sponsor academies increased their attainment 8 scores by an average of 3 points, twice the rate of LA-maintained schools. Converter academies continue to lead the secondary landscape with an average attainment 8 score of 53.2 points compared to 49.8 points for LA-maintained schools.

The increasing number of academies, particularly in the secondary sector, has provided many more parents with a wide choice of school for their child.

There are, however, still 65 local authorities where less than half of children have access to a good or outstanding secondary school within 3 miles of their home. For these pupils, the chance of getting the best education depends not on talent or hard work, but on where they live or how much money their parents have.

That is why this government is consulting on a raft of measures to increase the number of ‘good’ school places.

We are seeking to tap into the knowledge and expertise of this country’s world leading universities and independent schools.

The Harris Federation, in collaboration with Westminster School, set up the Harris Westminster Sixth Form. Earlier this year, the school announced it sent 7 pupils to Oxbridge. We want to see more examples of this sort of partnership.

King’s College London has opened a new specialist sixth form, King’s College London Mathematics School. This sixth form is already performing impressively. In August 2016, 100% of KCLMS students received an A* or A grade in mathematics, including 83% gaining an A*. King’s College London is demonstrating the effect that universities can have in the school sector.

Faith schools account for around a third of all mainstream schools in England. The government is proposing to remove the regulations that are preventing more from opening. Faith schools are popular with parents and are significantly more likely to be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. We will take steps to ensure that new faith schools operate in an inclusive way that promotes British values, but it cannot be right to maintain the restrictive regulation on faith schools when over a million children do not have access to a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school place.

The government is also consulting on proposals to increase the number of selective school places. Grammar schools are almost 50% more popular with parents choosing a school place for their child than non-selective schools. This is no surprise. 99% of selective schools are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. 82% are ‘outstanding’.

Under our proposals, existing grammar schools and new grammar schools would only be allowed to open if they met strict conditions designed to ensure increased numbers of less-well-off pupils have access to a selective education.

The most recent GCSE figures show that pupils at grammar schools - relative to their similarly able peers in comprehensives - make significantly more progress.

The results are even starker for pupils from less affluent backgrounds. Disadvantaged pupils from grammar schools are almost twice as likely to go to a top Russell Group university than their wealthier peers who attend comprehensive schools. And they are more than three times as likely to attend these prestigious universities than their comprehensively educated peers from similar socio-economic backgrounds.

The government’s proposals will create a greater number of selective school places. The conditions will ensure that grammar schools drive greater social mobility in this country - as we know they can.

And in order to drive social mobility we need to ensure all schools are operating on a level playing field, with equal access to the resources they need.

Fair funding is an issue that FASNA feels strongly about - and rightly so. This government is determined to tackle the unfairness in the system.

While we have protected the core schools budget in real terms, the system for distributing that funding is outdated, inefficient and unfair; a school in one part of the country could receive over 50% more than an identical school with exactly the same children in another area.

The unfairness of the current system is compounded by the fact that local authorities use different formulae to distribute funding locally. Take, for example, the additional funding attracted by secondary pupils with low prior attainment in Birmingham and Darlington. In 2015, pupils from Birmingham attracted an additional £2,248 - over 60 times more than their equally deserving peers in Darlington.

Later this year will see the department launch the second stage of our consultation. No longer will a school’s funding be determined by what happened a decade ago, and no longer will we see unjustifiable differences in funding formulae across local authority boundaries. Instead, each school’s funding will be determined by the same national funding formula. Pupils with similar characteristics must be funded at the same rate, no matter where they live. That is fairer for schools, parents and pupils.

I am grateful that many people here today who took part in the first stage of our consultation earlier this year. The consultation has led to a lively national debate about a wide range of issues related to funding. Officials have been analysing all the responses. We will publish our response later in the year.

In the first phase of the consultation, the government outlined a vision for the future school funding system; the principles by which we should set the formulae; and the factors we propose to use, including additional support for children from deprived backgrounds.

The second consultation will confirm the factors that will be in the formula and the weightings we will attach to these, including showing how it will affect the funding of schools and local authorities. These are important and substantial reforms, and it is essential that we consult fully to ensure our proposals are right.

In order to give time for a full and proper consultation to take place and to give schools and local authorities financial certainty for the coming financial year, the government has announced that the implementation of the national funding formula will be from 2018 to 2019 rather than 2017 to 2018.

In July, we confirmed that no local authority will lose per-pupil funding for schools, or high needs funding in the coming financial year. The funding cycle will continue to its usual timetable, and we will confirm final allocations to local authorities in December.

I appreciate there will be frustration about the delayed implementation of this important change, but the need for in-depth consultation and the need not to hold up school and local authority immediate-term financial planning requires the timetable we have announced.

FASNA has played an important role in promoting professional autonomy, and in helping to craft many of the education reforms over the last 6 years which are helping to ensure pupils reach their full potential. I look forward to working with you in the months and hopefully years ahead.

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