The observations that follow are personal reflections, albeit informed by the work EdisonLearning has done with the National Association of Headteachers in developing, delivering and evaluating the NAHT Partner Schools Programme.
The NFER published a meticulous review of the performance of Academies in June. The results indicate, for both primary and secondary schools, that there were marginal positive differences in performance between Local Authority schools and ‘sponsored’ and ‘converter’ academies with comparable demographics and starting points. This begs the obvious questions of whether the national policy commitment to structural change is likely to bring about a transformation in outcomes and whether any improvements that may follow are worth the expense, effort and (in the case of forced academisation) the turmoil that are entailed.
The NAHT Aspire Partner Schools Programme focused on classroom practices and developing leadership and other factors that research has shown enable these to be grown and sustained. Derby University’s independent evaluation report showed that the pilot schools made twice the improvement of schools nationally whilst their feedback about the experience was “overwhelmingly positive”.
Stepping away from the controversies that beset debate in this area we could begin with an a priori assumption that attainment and progress in any sphere arises out of some form of interaction between a learner and another person or with some other resource that imparts knowledge or provokes thinking. Without these no learning can take place. It follows from this that accelerated progress of learners must flow from a change in these interactions and provisions. Part of NAHT Aspire is ‘Precision Pedagogy’, this aims to put research about human learning into the hands of teachers to “Teach the right thing, in the right way, to the right learners”. All school improvement work must, ultimately, be about bringing this about. We know from research that this is most successful where it is done at multiple levels – building teachers’ repertoires and skills alongside developing the things that will foster and sustain these practices – notably, leadership, culture and the thoughtful use of data. This is the holistic approach embedded in the holistic Design that sits behind NAHT Aspire.
Applying this analysis to the academisation agenda the key question must be – does a change in school status support more “Teaching the right thing, in the right way, to the right learners”? A probable conclusion is that on its own, very little. It seems somewhat like trying to organise papers within a filing cabinet by bashing it on the outside.
Whilst academisation may have other benefits and be especially suited to certain circumstances it is difficult to envisage how it can achieve the transformations that everyone in the education arena wishes to see, without being harnessed to a more holistic approach that enables more effective day to day, moment by moment, learning opportunities.
Dr. Allan Sigston
Director of Education Services