My week started with a meeting on Monday with the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter. As chair of Special Schools’ Voice, a number of schools had asked if I, along with a couple of colleagues, could meet with him to discuss both the Multi Academy Trust programme and where the government feels that specialist schools sit within the new educational landscape.
We outlined the challenges that many schools within our sector report through to us:
- in Ofsted terms, the vast majority of special schools are rated good or outstanding
- staff recruitment and retaining the best staff is becoming more challenging
- across the country we have an increasing number of young people being supported with an Education, Health and Care Plan
- there is a near crisis in the number of places available in special schools to support these children and young people
- school budgets have decreased in real terms over the last 3 years
- the needs of the young people who presently attend our schools are becoming increasingly complex
- there appears to be less or significantly altered support offered by other agencies which is placing more pressure on schools
- smaller special schools are reporting real concerns around their ability to offer a curriculum and extended curriculum that is fit for purpose
- even though schools have been encouraged to ensure an economy of scale through developing closer links and ties, less than 20% of special schools are academies or a member of a Multi Academy Trust
Sir David was able to offer a real insight into the direction of government policy. It would appear that the appetite for the system to become academised has not diminished. It may take a little longer than the (now revised) 2022 timeline but there seems little doubt that central policy remains steadfast in relation to all schools becoming academies.
We reported that there are a perceived number of ‘camps’ with regard to the debate on academies. Some organisations have embraced the policy; they have seen their Multi Academy Trusts grow and have managed to deflect or respond to many of the challenges listed above, usually due to the fact that they have an increased economy of scale. Others, sometimes through their geographical location, want to work in a more federated way but struggle as a result of where they are situated. A very significant number still oppose the policy and would prefer to stay as community special schools.
The National Schools Commissioner was delighted that we were able to articulate the position that many schools find themselves in and the challenges they face; he has agreed to present a response that can be circulated to the wider network.
Our organisation obviously falls within the group that has embraced the academy agenda. Our trustees and members, together with members of our local governing bodies, took a view 3 years ago that we would be better placed if we converted and became an academy. I have blogged in the past about how I believe this has given our children and young people more opportunities. To further enhance our Multi Academy Trust we were delighted to welcome Spring Brook into our Group yesterday. Spring Brook Academy is based on two sites, the lower school on Heron Street and the upper school on Dean Street. I am certain that there will be benefits for everyone involved.
I met yesterday with a DfE education expert to outline our plans for our new free school, the Springboard Project. I explained that we would be driving forward an employment based curriculum that will enable the young people to prepare themselves for life in the real world. We have identified a number of buildings in the centre of Oldham that would be suitable for the new school and we are awaiting confirmation from government – we will keep you updated.
It’s been another busy old week and the Christmas trees are going up across our sites on Monday!!
Have a great weekend,