Morley High School in Leeds became an academy in January 2011. Why become an academy? “We wanted to be emancipated from the local authority,” explained straight-talking principal John Townsley.
“In our view it wastes a lot of public money. The school is now significantly better off – becoming an academy created £280,000 a year additional income, which even though we have nearly 1,600 students is still a sizeable amount.
“And we can choose how we spend the increased income, whether on services from the local authority (we still buy some services from them because those are very high quality), on new staff, or on services from private organisations. We also have more freedom over the curriculum, employment and admissions policies.”
On the curriculum, Morley had prioritised modern foreign languages for some time before the English Baccalaureate was introduced.
Is the EBacc restrictive? “Not to us,” said Mr Townsley. “We feel passionately about the arts, RE and vocational education. We have terrific teams for history, geography, science and modern foreign languages.”
So the school devotes the time and resources it judges appropriate to every subject, regardless of the EBacc. Mr Townsley continued: “Confident schools always do what they want to do – what they believe is of most value to their students.
“Less confident schools may run after the official targets, which they think will make them look good. But the trouble is, when they get there they find the rules have changed.”
The academy now pays a performance-related bonus to its lowest-paid staff. The income of senior staff is also linked to performance across the two academies (Morley and Farnley, the new academy it has sponsored) – though collectively they have to achieve challenging targets.
For Morley the target this year is 75 per cent A* to C including maths and English, against the Fischer Family Trust benchmark of 60 per cent; and attendance of 96.5 per cent. At A level, the target is 100 per cent C grade or above at A2. The bonus if achieved will be shared among the senior leaders, middle management team and curriculum leaders.
On admissions policy, Morley is making changes to ensure that pupils at its less local feeder primaries do not suffer as a result of the increased number of children reaching secondary school age in the area.
Under local authority rules, children reaching secondary age “would have to live virtually on our doorstep” to get a place at Morley. Mr Townsley and his colleagues will ensure that pupils at rather more distant schools will also be able to come to Morley.
Benefits and challenges
The effects on exam results of becoming an academy have not been dramatic, nor would that be expected, as Morley was already an outstanding school.
Mr Townsley added: “We expect results to continue rising at an impressive rate, but that’s not entirely down to becoming an academy by any means.”
For the community, too, becoming an academy has not made a startling difference: “People will gather round an outstanding school, whether it is a community school under the local authority or an academy. Parents will push, cajole and badger to get their kids into an outstanding school.”
And have there been any difficulties for Morley in becoming an academy? Mr Townsley said: “The only major challenge we have had is over the other academy we sponsor, Farnley, but that’s for a good reason. The building is shared with a local authority special school. This made it complicated to set up and manage the new academy on the same site, but we’ve experienced no obstruction from anyone.”
One final benefit of becoming an academy according to Mr Townsley is that “we spend a lot less time on things that don’t really matter, and more time on those with the greatest impact”. He continued: “We all work incredibly hard, but you don’t mind doing that if it’s on the important things that you want to address. Before, the amount of time taken up with local authority business for the senior leadership team, curriculum leaders and myself was massive. That’s all gone.” Previous articlesYou can read the first in this series of articles: The pros and cons of academy conversion. The third and fourth articles will be published on January 24 and 31.