While the policy to convert every school to an academy has captured a lot of headlines, as well as triggering some backbench dissent, there are a number of key themes in the White Paper which are going to have significant impacts on existing academies, multi-academy trusts (MATs) and local authorities.
The White Paper has made it clear that "Apart from in exceptional circumstances, the smallest schools will have to form or join a MAT. But other successful, sustainable schools will still be able to continue as Single Academy Trusts if they choose to do so."
Another key focus for the Government is performance; "Where academies or MATs are underperforming, Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) will continue to take action promptly." MATs will need to make sure they have and make full use of management information systems.
Rather opaquely the White Paper refers to engaging "MATs, sponsors, academies, dioceses and the wider schools sector to ensure that the legal framework for academies is fit for the long term. This will require us to strike the right balance of freedoms for and controls over academies." It is not entirely clear what legal framework the White Paper is referring to but it will be important to see how legislation develops in this area.
One reform which will have a significant practical impact on schools is in relation to complaints: "where parents and pupils feel their voice isn’t being heard, they need clear, appropriate channels for complaints…We will also make it simpler to escalate complaints beyond the governing board to the Department for Education, and beyond that to a public service ombudsman." While the overwhelming majority of parents are reasonable, serial and vexatious complainants can have an enormous impact on schools –schools should now start to review their complaints procedures to ensure they are up to date.
Given the increased size of MATs and the greater focus on performance it naturally follows that Governance is going to become increasingly important. The Government intends to "create stronger expectations on governing boards to fill skills gaps, including through training, with help to recruit skilled people. We will also develop a new competency framework for governance in different context." The removal of an automatic requirement to have a parent governor has already generated controversy but longer term it is clear that governance is going to be subjected to a more detailed framework.
Overall, the devil will be in the detail, but it is clear that the White Paper does signal bold and radical change for the future.