Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Fostering success

Now that the dust is starting to settle from the Education White Paper, there has been some time to reflect on its implications.  

Shortly after publication we shared with the DfE some thoughts on a number of the potential risks or unintended consequences of the policy outlines and suggested some ways of mitigating them. But the biggest issue probably now needs wider reflection, hence this blog post.

Here's the excerpt from our initial reaction to the white paper:
"Engineering success rather than just delivering a policy outcome

    • All schools to become academies does not, of itself, improve outcomes for children
    • MATs need to be successful
    • The DfE doesn't actually know what success looks like yet
    • All it knows is what it doesn't want"
Engage existing MATs who have been successful over time and through growth to bring on new MATs through 'MAT Factories" - possibly becoming members of the new MATs that they help to create" 
Whilst the problem statement is quite clear, the mitigation suggestion is a bit off kilter. The difficulty is in the language and more specifically the use of the word 'Factory'.  Any genuine educationalist knows that success comes from suiting the learning to the learner rather than a one size fits all approach... So why would an industrialised approach to school and academy groups succeed? The short answer of course is that it won't.  

Much better would be to foster success. To identify those sponsor organisations [1] who appear to have succeeded in turnaround and acceleration of improvement in schools in different contexts and inviting them to foster fledgling MATs as they in turn seek to discover the best path for their own children.

The great advantage of this approach is that it moves aways from the tick box mentality, the seven secrets, or top tips.   The egocentric... 'Let me tell you why I am so wonderful and what you need to do to be as wonderful as me.'  It shifts the emphasis onto the learner whether they are a child or an academy principal.

Creating a MAT fostering programme would allow successful MATs and Local Authorities to build capacity in the next generation of school-led systems. It would be much more effective and more efficient than the command and control regulation and oversight approach. It would create breathing space for Regional Schools Commissioners to identify the most efficient levers for change and it would distribute risk rather than concentrate it.

We are already doing it where we can (and are always happy to support others build enduring model of success) but it would be great if there were a properly funded government programme to support it.

[1] We are delighted that following the white paper the government is in discussion over allowing successful local authorities to set up their own MATs.  We have been suggesting this for over two years as the best way to retain expertise in the school system. 

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