‘All academies by 2020’ – the debate on structures is already in full swing. The question is can academies rise to the challenge and do the job education in this country needs? That is not single academies but academies in groups or hard federations – Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). The job we need them to do is to raise standards for those children still left behind. The children in our largely coastal and rural areas and these are predominantly children on Free School Meals (FSM) or the Pupil Premium(PP) children and usually white British. To a large extent the job is done in London and even in the other major cities but not everywhere.
This issue was raised by me certainly four years ago and has had prominence since. As a result there are initiatives attracting the best teachers and leaders to these more remote schools. Organisations like Teach First and Future Leaders are also changing their focus to the coast. These moves are all critical in bringing successful outcomes. However children cannot wait. We need multiple initiatives that together will impact in a major way to support coastal and rural schools and compete with London. The problems they suffer from are a mix of disadvantages : isolation, lack of easy transport links. Also lack of job opportunities which give youngsters something to aim for and also bring employees to the area who may have partners who want to teach ( let’s hope). It is a different set of problems from inner city schools.
So back to my initial question can MATs do the job better than Local Authorities (LAs) have fared thus far? In my view we need MATs that specialise in the schools on the coast or in rural England. We need to build up such expertise just as we have done with successful academies in cities.
One such MAT is the Bright Tribe Trust (BTT)head office based in Stockport ( neither rural or coastal) however it has taken up the challenge to transform rural and coastal schools and to do it at scale. They have academy hubs developing in all four corners of England: from Cornwall in the South West, to Suffolk in the East, to Cumbria in the North West and now most recently in the North East. Their model is school to school, finding Executive Principals from nearby Outstanding schools to lead improvement. This way the solutions are tailored to the needs of the community and best practice is followed. Local Governance in area hubs is being developed. The curriculum model is skills based to ensure progression is inbuilt. Links to University Technical a Colleges (UTCs) and Career Colleges (CCs) bring STEM and career pathways to the fore. Adventure learning is a specialism in the SW. Breadth through the co-curriculum encouraged. At the heart is a ground breaking Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme being developed as we speak. This to value the staff in the Trust who are central to the aspirations and success of the youngsters. It is relatively early days but the schools are moving forward.
Let’s build on this start, see more Trusts wholly committed to disadvantaged children in remote areas and so give the youngsters wherever they live an equal chance of a great education and a career of which they can be proud.