The RSA Academies Commission

The RSA has established a three person commission to inquire into the implications of the complete academisation of the school system. The remit of the commission is to consider:

  • The implications of complete academisation for school improvement and pupil attainment
  • How improvement and attainment can best be secured within an academised system
  • The model and incipient outcomes from a school improvement perspective, focusing on issues of accountability, due diligence, and outcomes for pupils.
  • Emerging trends, risks, and related questions, concentrating on public interest.

The three members of the commission are Christine Gilbert, former HMCI, Chris Husbands, Director of the Institute of Education and Brett Wigdortz, Chief Executive of Teach First and previously of McKinsey’s.

It’s immediately apparent that the remit of the commission is a very narrow one, concentrating on the possible implications for pupil outcomes. It makes the initial assumption that academy status will be the norm, ignoring the very apparent resistance in much of the primary sector in particular. One imagines that much of the report will be  speculative given that extrapolating from a few hundred academies to 20,000 is to say the least a risky thing to do.

Fortunately readers of the TES will know that at least one member of the Commission does not intend to trouble herself with evidence or with anybody else’s views. In Christine Gilbert’s view, leaving it all to schools to sort out is fine …”notions of commissioners and other sorts of middle tier are not the right way to be going”.

The initial point to make is surely that Ms Gilbert now has no business chairing a supposedly impartial enquiry. If she continues, its findings will have little validity given her public statement pre-empting its work.

More fundamentally, the article betrays a serious failure to understand what commissioning means and what issues will need to be addressed by her much maligned middle tier. Issues currently being ignored by the government and apparently by her include:

–          Making sure that there are enough appropriate local schools to meet the needs of the community and that they’re run in ways that have the support of local people – that includes the role of sponsors, chains and trusts;

–          Monitoring the performance of schools and intervening when performance is inadequate – not just waiting four or five years for Ofsted to arrive;

–          Having oversight of the governance and financial management of schools so that the public interest comes first;

–          Ensuring that all schools have access to support – school to school support should certainly be an important part of the system but someone has to make sure that no school is left out and that schools accept support when they need it;

–          Looking after the interests of vulnerable pupils – the ones that many of our so-called good schools do their best to avoid taking;

–          Listening to the concerns of people locally, including making sure complaints are properly dealt with.

Actually delivering support or sharing expertise is only one part of the process of managing the school system. It will not manage itself and, if left to do so, scandals like the Beccles Free School decision and the Priory Academy Chain will undoubtedly multiply.

 If it is to be taken seriously, the RSA Commission will need to widen its remit and consider who will take practical responsibility to ensure the effective and honest working of 20,000 schools and who will make sure that the concerns of parents and children throughout the country are listened to. At present Michael Gove is trying to do all these things for 1500 schools, failing dismally and wasting hundreds of millions of public money in the process.

We certainly need a proper strategic review of the future of the school system as a whole. It’s clearly true that we won’t be going back to 1997, let alone 1987.  But there are a whole set of issues that the government is pretending just don’t need to be addressed which will not go away.


One Comment on “The RSA Academies Commission”

  1. trevor fisher says:

    I assume that the article is in the TES, this week’s which may be available on line? If not can we access the quote and critique it? This is not an impartial enquiry, but it opens the way to an alternative enquiry – the RSA is of course a body which runs Academies, and the role of Teach FIrst and McKinsey’s (a business consultancy) would be on the agenda.

    So rubbishing the RSA enquiry is fine, but let’s see a different enquiry set up