After another big school year, I’m now on professional leave for the next few weeks where the bulk of my time will be attending an advanced leaders course at Cambridge. I’ll also be visiting some innovative schools and meeting with educational authorities in England and Scandinavia. The focus will be on how these schools and systems are responding to the transformation agenda.
Last week I spent two days with Stephen Heppell visiting West Thornton Primary Academy and Stanley Park High School in South London. The chance to spend time talking ‘schooling and learning’ with Stephen is priceless but it takes on an added dimension when you are able to see innovation in action and talk to creative and passionate school leaders.
England is currently undergoing a mass privatisation of schools, which appears to me as to be a way of devolving more control to each school. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are being phased out and replaced by Academies that receive government funding directly. In this way, the LEA is made redundant. It is a process called ‘academisation’ where not for profit entities are being encouraged to join together as Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). Forgive the acronyms!
Trusts are formed by willing Academies who can become de facto LEAs. There is no overall oversight by governments outside of setting performance benchmarks, which if not met, can lead to school closures. While this is a very general description there is a high degree of concern in the UK for the direction being taken. Like other education systems, there is an ever-widening gap between great schools and those struggling.
However, from what I’ve seen there is a real drive for transformation across schools. Pockets of innovative practice are evident but as always, much harder to sustain over the long-term. New spaces are emerging as teachers are moving to more collaborative practices and personalised learning. The good news is that teacher learning is a high priority in schools.
Those who read this blog know that I have been critical of state and federal education policy in Australia for some time. In comparison to what is happening in England I think we can be thankful that our policy platform is relatively stable. The key is to achieve balance between total autonomy and central control. Although we haven’t reached Finnish status, we are seeing greater trust as schools realise they can demonstrate excellence in learning and compliance.