UPDATE: On March 15th, the BBC reported the Government's plans to force all schools to become an academy - the article has been updated to reflect this.
Our first 'School Wars' article was published in September 2012. In the three and a half years since then the number of academies has more than doubled from 2,300 to over 5,100; the number of free schools has shot up from 79 to 383 (with 187 more planned); and there are now over 470 organisations (excluding local authorities) that run more than one school.
The article below looks at the key trends over the past year and makes predictions for the next ten years - including the growing role of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, the demise of the local authority-run school system and the move from small regional trusts to national entities...
1. Free School Changes
2. Academy Changes
3. What does The Future Hold?
“My next ambition is this. Five hundred new free schools, every school an academy, and yes – local authorities running schools a thing of the past.” David Cameron, 7th October 2015
1. At the end of February 2016, the Education and Adoption Bill passed through the final stage of Parliament and is now (as of early March) waiting for Royal Assent. According to this article from the National Governors' Association, the Government will soon have the power to meet David Cameron's ambition and academise many, many more schools - targeting 'inadequate' and 'coasting' schools, as well as speeding up the process of conversion for all schools. According to the BBC, further legislation will be added to speed up this process.
2. Changes to assessment in both primary and secondary schools have the potential to significantly increase the number of schools that fall into the categories above.
3. All new schools must be free schools so the ongoing rise in the school population will automatically lead to many more schools outside local authority control. And the majority are being set up by existing or new MATs.
4. One potential obstacle to academisation - opposition from faith schools - is now a big driver of change. In 2010 the Catholic Church advised schools to take 'great caution' about academisation, but changed its mind in late 2011 and now there are many Catholic MATs, including the Plymouth CAST listed in the top 'top 10 trusts' table above. The Church of England has also taken on board academisation and over 290 schools are now run by various Anglican Dioceses. It seems clear that many church schools will band together in trusts to preserve and enhance their autonomy.
Given these trends, within as little as 4 years, there will be no local authority-run schools. What will the landscape for schools look like then? A clue comes from a new plan unveiled recently by new School Commissioner Sir David Carter. Chains will only be allowed to expand within limits and will have to be assessed before entering the next 'tier'. This will lead to an increase in the number of small, locally-focused chains - perhaps containing 10-20 schools in a small town or the Anglican schools in a larger one.
However, looking further ahead, as with any industry, consolidation is inevitable, driven by cost pressures. We will see 'successful' trusts grow by mergers (both suggested by trusts and imposed by the Schools Commissioners), and partnerships (like this one cited in Schools Week) creating larger federations along regional, faith and vocational divisions. By 2025 (politics allowing) we may be down to 200 or so new organisations running nearly all the schools in England (an average of 100 schools each) - replacing local authorities with a similar number of entities, but organised on radically different lines. The largest entities could be the Church of England, and an merged ARK/Harris/David Ross group...
What does this mean for existing schools and MATs? As we argued recently, your reputation as an organisation is as strong as your weakest link. MATs will have to listen to parents, regulators, other MATs and other stakeholders and innovate to improve their service in a time of financial restraint; improve their reputation as an employer as we pass through a period of teacher shortage; and take advantage of new technology to communicate better, faster and more safely with their wider community.
In short, the age of school marketing has arrived...(well, we would say that...)