Diary of a headteacher: Facing my academy fears...

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An interesting perspective. I’ve only ever worked in an academy. Now I’m wondering what I might be ...

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Having never worked in an academy, our headteacher diarist had reservations about joining her first MAT last year. She discusses what made her take the plunge

Have you ever worked in an academy? It’s reasonably likely that you may have done if you are teaching in 2019.

The Department for Education detailed the extent of academisation across England in a report last February: 6,996 maintained schools had converted as of January 2018. It means that an estimated 47 per cent of pupils were being taught in academies. In total, 72 per cent of secondary schools were academies as of January 2018.

Interesting statistics, particularly for someone who had not taught in an academy until now. Yes, it’s true – I hadn’t worked in an academy at all before I went full throttle and became the head of one in April 2018.

I must admit that I had felt the fear of academisation in the early days, not least when we were told that they were going to drive up standards by replacing “failing” schools in struggling local authorities. “Replacing” – the word struck fear in many. What was going to happen to the students and staff in the schools deemed failing? What would be the benchmark for failure?

I remember the concern of staff and parents when my then school was graded satisfactory – would that be considered en route to failing? Would we be the first in the borough to be academised? We weren’t, an IEB (Interim Executive Board) was instituted instead, but that’s another story...

I have seen new-start academies from the early days. As an assistant head in the mid-2000s, I worked in a school that took many of the boys who felt rejected when their school closed. The closed school re-opened as a flagship academy in a now incredibly successful chain. They had a shiny new building with new staff and different students. I worried about the boys who were forced to move school and borough in years 10 and 11.

So, it is now 2019 and I am the head of an academy in a multi-academy trust. Who’d have thought it. Now I’m here, I have had the opportunity to re-evaluate my fears.

Like each school, each trust is different and I can only speak of my limited experience in one MAT. However, as head, you can learn a lot in two terms.

First and foremost, the MAT’s vision for the future has to be intrinsically linked to your own. Obviously results are key, but what more does the MAT aim to achieve? Ours has a vision for children that matches my own – this harmony of core values is vital. You cannot work for an institution that doesn’t share your own moral imperative; that incompatibility won’t work for you or for the MAT.

The CEO is key. I heard about mine from a fellow school leader – a 45-year veteran of London education. She told me that this was a man with integrity; a man who worked tirelessly to improve children’s lives.

This school leader is a woman for whom I have the utmost respect. And she was right. My CEO’s pedigree preceded him but, all the internet searches in the world couldn’t describe just what a thoroughly decent man he is. So, if you’re about to embark on life in a MAT, do your research on the CEO. As the key driver of the organisation, if the CEO isn’t in this for the right reasons, avoid at all costs.

A lot has changed in the education landscape since the launch of the academy programme. A lot has changed for me personally in that same time.

So where am I now? Actually feeling very lucky. This trust is special. I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories. In my experience, the MAT is the key driver in securing happy students and staff and thriving schools. If you’re going to work in a MAT, do your research and make sure that their philosophy and practice fits with your beliefs and ethics.

Choose carefully, just as the school needs to be the right fit for you, so too does the MAT. Choose well and hopefully you’ll strike it lucky, just like I did.

  • SecEd’s Diary of a Headteacher is written by two different headteachers. The author of this entry is a headteacher in her first year of headship at a secondary school in east London.

Interesting to read about your experiences with acadamies. A hot topic given how many children are now being taught within academies. Good to hear some positives!
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An interesting perspective. I’ve only ever worked in an academy. Now I’m wondering what I might be missing.
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