Academies and Educational Reform: Governance, Leadership and Strategy

Academies and Educational Reform: Governance, Leadership and Strategy

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Behind the headlines and controversy surrounding new academy schools, many of their principals, teachers and pupils have been quietly changing the culture of learning and achievement in some of the most disadvantaged communities in England. While successful innovation and change is not unique to academies, this book illustrates how the academy policy represents a significant opportunity to improve the life chances of their pupils. Too much attention has focused on unanswerable questions about whether academies are better or worse than their predecessor or comparable schools in their neighbourhood. Too little focus has been on what policy makers and practitioners can learn from the different, and often conflicting, perspectives of the key players, notably sponsors, architects, principals, parents and pupils in order to create a school that can truly serve their community with distinction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847694874
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 10/20/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 321 KB

About the Author

Elizabeth Leo has held senior leadership and management posts in universities and schools in the UK. She has led research and development with academies, maintained schools and local education authorities to promote strategic leadership that transforms teacher and student motivation, learning and achievement. Her research and publications focus on improving academies and schools in high poverty, highly disadvantaged communities from a cognitive-motivational perspective.

David Galloway has published research on school and teacher influences on bullying in schools, extending his previous work on school influences on students' behaviour, and on provision for special educational needs. He also has a research interest in motivation. He has (co)authored or edited 15 books and about 100 articles.

Phil Hearne is one of the most successful academy principals in England having led two academies in London. He is currently executive director of the country's largest and most complex all-age Academy in the North East. He has contributed to national and international conferences on leadership and, more recently, is focusing his research on rethinking the nature of organisational change and development of academies.

Read an Excerpt


Why Academies?


The academies programme was launched by the Labour government in 2000 'to replace seriously failing schools' and to break 'the cycle of underperformance and low expectations' (Blunkett, 2000). Starting with three academies in 2002, the programme grew almost exponentially over the next six years. The growth coincided with a notable dilution of the independence granted to the first academies, and with inclusion in the programme of schools that were probably underachieving, but were certainly not 'seriously failing'. Following the Labour party's defeat in the 2010 general election, the incoming Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition introduced a radical shift of focus. Whereas previously academy status had been reserved mainly for underachieving schools, the new government encouraged 'outstanding' schools to apply for fast track procedures to become academies and indicated that all secondary, primary and special schools would eventually be able to apply. Our book is concerned with experience gained before this radical shift of focus. Did it justify the new administration's proposed expansion of the programme? If so, what are the cornerstones of its success, and can we identify the quicksands into which it could sink?


There was a yearning in the early years of the Blair government for a bold and credible program of secondary school improvement beyond simply employing more teachers and putting more money into the system. (Andrew Adonis)

Writing in 1997, Adonis and Pollard had argued that money buys a good education – not only in the independent sector, but also in the state sector. In the mid-1990s he saw a state education system that suffered, he believed, from under investment and flight of the middle class from schools in the inner cities:

Those who can afford to flee the system desert it for the private sector; those who have the money to escape to a leafy middle class catchment area leave the inner cities; and those who can't are left behind to pick up the pieces. (Adonis & Pollard, 1997: 61)

This situation was compounded by the emergence of the 'educatholics' (Adonis & Pollard, 1997: 53): families whose devotion to the catholic church was closely linked to their anxieties about British education. These families considered themselves lapsed until they reached child-bearing age and then brought themselves to the attention of the priest to ensure that their child had a chance of a place at a 'good' catholic school. Adonis described run down comprehensive schools, overcrowded with poor facilities, high rates of vandalism and frustrated teachers. With some exceptions they constituted a failure of egalitarian policies.

Another key player in the education reform agenda that the incoming Labour government was to establish in 1997 was Michael Barber (1996). He claimed that a minimum of 1 in 14 schools was providing its pupils with an inadequate education; although some schools were successful, and some local authorities (LAs) had succeeded in leading interventions, far too often deep-seated problems were not being addressed:

... imagine the public outcry if an air traffic controller tried to justify a crash on the grounds that the other nine planes landed safely. (Barber, 1996: 123)

For Barber (2007), the central concern of the government's education policy in 1997 was to:

... solve the real problem that teachers face in tough inner city areas ... and to make schools in these locations more attractive to those parents who would otherwise abandon them. (Barber, 2007: 36)

He regarded policy at this time as a blend of Prime Minister Blair's emphasis on aspirant parents and David Blunkett's emphasis on equity. Blair saw LAs and the education establishment as actively placing barriers in the way of radical educational agendas.

Michael Levy (2008) was another influence on Blair and a key player in the development of the academies movement. He was clear that the academies programme was central to Blair's reform agenda. The person most closely associated with the academies programme itself in the Prime Minister's Policy Unit in Downing Street was Andrew Adonis. Levy was a kindred spirit with Adonis, Barber and Blair in his views on and experience of education in the period leading up to 1997. He described the time when he and his partner were looking at secondary schools for their children. On visiting their nearest secondary school, his partner pronounced it 'awful, absolutely awful' (Levy, 2008: 58).

Charles Leadbetter (1999) also influenced the Labour government around the turn of the century. He wrote of the need to:

make it easier for people to create and open new schools. (Leadbetter, 1999: 241)

With Will Hutton (1995) he reflected both a commitment to education and a commitment to rethink current practice and do things differently. Against this background of the need to do something that would make a difference, the Labour government launched the Academies initiative, originally called City Academies, in 2000.

What This Book Tries to Do: And Does Not Try to Do

The above summary shows that a political head of steam had built up by the time Labour came to power in 1997. The incoming prime minister's often quoted priorities of Education, Education, Education were based on a conviction that the secondary school system required urgent attention. He believed the problem was most acute in impoverished inner city areas, and a major contributory factor was the inadequacies of LAs. There was nothing particularly original in this conviction. As we see later, it was shared by John Major's outgoing Conservative administration in 1997 and by David Cameron's incoming government in 2010. In opposition, the Conservatives always gave the academies programme their broad support and their manifesto for the 2010 election committed them to extending it. We are not principally interested in this book in discussing the political analysis of the failings of schools and LAs, though in Chapters 2 and 3 we do try to show how it affected the development of the programme.

The lack of significant discord between the two main parties influenced the focus and shape of the book. It would have been quite possible to write a book challenging the concept of academies and the premises on which the programme was based. Others have already done that (e.g. Beckett, 2007). Our underlying questions were:

• What can be learned from the academies programme?

• What are the implications for education policy and practice?

Subsidiary questions arising from these were:

• What have been the programme's main achievements?

• In what circumstances and under what conditions are academies most likely to be successful?

• What have been the programme's main problems?

• In what circumstances and under what conditions is an academy likely to run into serious difficulties?

We hoped that these questions would appeal to the general reader with an interest in education as well as specialist policy makers, teachers and governors. Our starting point was that the political consensus will prevent the programme's numerous opponents from derailing it for the foreseeable future. The opposition to academies seemed to us important only insofar as it would help us throw light on the above questions.

For three reasons, therefore, we were not principally interested in asking whether academies are more successful than LA schools. First, and unsurprisingly, some are and some are not. As we see later, the variation between academies is as great as between LA schools. Second, since there is no prospect of them being phased out, demands for their closure or return to the LA fold are at best unrealistic. At worst they betray a closed mind: Can the programme really have achieved nothing useful from which other parts of the education system should learn? Third, academies represent the most decisive shift in school governance since the 1944 Education Act introduced a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. We note later that LAs that have retained this system have exceptionally high numbers of low achieving schools and argue that the existence of grammar schools has contributed to the difficulties they face. Yet the limitations of many secondary moderns did not lead anyone to demand a return to the status quo ante. Nor, in the 1970s did the limitations of some comprehensive schools lead any open-minded people to demand a return to secondary moderns. In both cases the questions for policy makers were: What can we learn from the achievements of the new system? And what can we do when things go wrong? That is our starting point in this book.

Developing the idea

Academies can be seen as a development from the Grant Maintained (GM) schools of the late 1980s and 1990s and from the City Technology Colleges (CTCs) created by the 1996 Education Act. A key feature of these schools was that they were independent of their local education authorities (LEAs). This independence included holding their own budgets, with freedom to commission their own support services and to arrange their own professional development programmes. GM schools were rightly seen by the incoming Labour administration in 1997 as a Tory initiative, which had done little to raise standards in areas where both main parties thought it was most needed, namely schools in inner city and socially disadvantaged areas. More seriously, GM schools almost always replaced successful schools. A failing or underperforming school would have been deemed unable to manage its own budget or to take responsibility for maintaining and raising standards. Hence, the incoming government did not believe that GM schools provided a model for the incoming government to follow in its drive to raise standards throughout the country's schools. (There were exceptions. One of the authors worked in a poor performing secondary modern school in a highly selective area. Within two years of becoming GM, its results had improved, as had the numbers seeking admission. Ironically, it undermined two neighbouring non-GM schools and later became the lead school in a federation with the two schools in an attempt to transform their fortunes. The federation is now an academy.)

Nevertheless, every government since the 1980s has shared the Conservatives' view that LEAs lacked the single-minded determination required to improve the quality of education in the schools that Ofsted identified as failing or underperforming. Moreover, the inevitable inertia, as the government saw it, in local authority bureaucracy was compounded by a system of school governance that impeded rapid change rather than helping it.

CTCs were seen as having the necessary commitment to raise standards but for four reasons could not be seen as a model for a wider programme of reform. First, they were mostly new schools, opened in the face of local opposition, and thus could not replace the existing failing or underperforming schools that the government saw as its greatest challenge. Second, a more extensive programme of reform would need to work with LAs rather than in opposition to them, however reluctant the initial cooperation might be. Third, it was seen as essential to focus on areas of disadvantage and underachievement. Fourth, any extensive programme would need sponsors for chains of academies rather than a single sponsor for each school.

Academies can also trace part of their ancestry to the thinking behind the Reconstituted School programme in the United States, which developed in the United Kingdom as Fresh Start. As part of their agenda to raise standards, the New Labour party had considered the notion of Fresh Start while in opposition. In 1995 David Blunkett proposed drawing on the (rather mixed) US experience of Reconstituted Schools, and this became official government policy following Labour's election success in 1997. Fresh Start relied on leaders of the highest calibre, soon to be referred to in the media as 'superheads', creating an ambitious sense of purpose in failing schools.

The Fresh Start programme began in 1998 and by early 2000 some 15 secondary and primary schools were involved. However, it was a constant target for the media. A poorly judged decision by one 'superhead' to allow a television production company to make a prime time fly on the wall documentary of her Fresh Start school, and the high profile resignations of three 'superheads' in March and April 2000, led to inevitable headlines:

Third Superhead quits fresh start school. (The Guardian, 15th March 2000)

Fresh start school will be closed for good. (The Independent, 9th May 2000)

Fresh start turns sour. (Times Educational Supplement [TES], 12th May 2000)

And finally:

Ministers admit defeat in 'fresh start' policy for failing schools. (TES, 12th May 2000)

The basis of this headline was a speech from the then Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris, suggesting that LAs were not playing a full role in the Fresh Start programme. Given the search for a radical approach to raising standards, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the academies programme, known originally but briefly as City Academies, was announced as Fresh Start was making the headlines for not raising standards. While there are similarities between Fresh Start and academies, the latter went further by cutting out the LAs that Estelle Morris had identified as not playing a full part in Fresh Start. Academies also offered more security from the potentially destabilising closing and reopening of schools that had occurred under Fresh Start. For example, in July 2000 the BBC reported that Dr Jill Clough was to start as the new head of East Brighton College of Media Arts in the coming September. This school had already been closed and reopened twice. It was originally called Stanley Deason School, judged to be failing and reopened as Marina High School, closed again and reopened the previous September as East Brighton College of Media Arts. Fresh Start required none of the changes in governance that were to become defining features of academies.

The academies programme was announced by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education, in a speech at the Social Market Foundation in March 2000 on transforming Secondary education:

Over the next year we intend to launch pathfinder projects for new City Academies. These Academies, to replace seriously failing schools, will be built and managed by partnerships involving the government, voluntary, Church and business sponsors. They will offer a real challenge and improvements in pupil performance, for example through innovative approaches to management, governance, teaching and curriculum, including a specialist focus in at least one curriculum area. They will also be committed to working with and learning from other local schools ... The aim will be to raise standards while breaking the cycle of underperformance and low expectations ... They will take over or replace schools which are either in special measures or underachieving. (Speech to Social Market Foundation, 15 March 2000).

The first three academies opened in 2002. In 2003 there were 12, 17 in 2004, 27 in 2005, 46 in 2006, 83 in 2007 and 133 in 2008, with 'up to 80' scheduled to open in September 2009 and another 100 in 2010 (DCSF, 2009). On 30 November 2006 Tony Blair announced a commitment to 400 by an unspecified date.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Standards site explained the Labour government's view of academies.

Academies are all-ability, state funded schools established and managed by sponsors from a wide range of backgrounds, including high-performing schools and colleges, universities, individual philanthropists, business, the voluntary sector, and the Faith communities. Some are established educational providers and all of them bring a record of success in other enterprises which they are able to apply to their Academies in partnership with experienced school managers.

Sponsors challenge traditional thinking on how schools are run and what they should be like for students. They seek to make a complete break with cultures of low aspiration which affect too many communities and their schools. We want this to happen, which is why we entrust the governance of Academies to them. On establishing an Academy, the sponsor sets up an endowment fund, the proceeds of which are spent by the Academy Trust on measures to counteract the impact of deprivation in their local communities.

Academies are set up with the backing of their local authority, which also has a seat on the academy's governing body – Academies that are co-sponsored by their local authority will have two seats in the governing body. Academies are not maintained by the local authority, but they collaborate closely with it, and with other schools in the area. Academies are funded at a level comparable to other schools in their area.


Excerpted from "Academies and Educational Reform"
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Copyright © 2010 Elizabeth Leo, David Galloway, Phil Hearne.
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Table of Contents

Part 1. Background

Chapter 1. Why academies?

Chapter 2. Socially divisive gimmick or political and moral imperative?

Chapter 3. Opposition: Dogma or legitimate concern?

Part 2. Innovation, governance, leadership, teaching and learning

Chapter 4. “ It’s really down to the sponsor.”

Chapter 5. Schools for the future: Trophy buildings or learning environments?

Chapter 6. Distinctive features of academies: 1. Independence, accountability, pressure

Chapter 7. Distinctive features of academies: 2. Innovation Part 3. Futures

Chapter 8. A coherent policy?

Chapter 9. Designed to deliver?

Chapter 10. The future of academies: Consolidating the beachhead?

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