Headteachers and trust bosses have spoken of the huge benefits that becoming academies has brought to Sheffield schoolchildren.
They believe the schools forming the latest multi-academy trust – King Edward VII School, High Storrs and Stocksbridge High – will experience many positives including being able to share expertise and resources, develop teaching and teachers’ skills and make financial savings.
Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government rather than through the council.
Their daily running is down to the headteacher or principal, but they are overseen by an academy trust or multi-academy trust. The trusts and chains provide advice, support, expertise and a strategic overview.
They control their own admissions process and have more freedom than other schools under control of the local authority, such as changing the length of the school day and term times.
Libby Nicholas, chief executive of Astrea Academy Trust, which has 16 schools in South Yorkshire and will sponsor the new through-school in Burngreave, said: “The main benefit of becoming an academy and joining an academy trust is that the school can draw on a much wider and deeper pool of expertise: educationally of course, but also in all the other operations of a school – development of staff, finance, IT, buildings management and so on.
“There are also huge savings to be made – if you are buying on behalf of 16 schools compared to one, you obviously have some serious purchasing power from everything from energy bills to glue sticks.
“Having a shared set of values and overarching ambition across a number of schools in a local area – in our case a commitment to providing education that inspires beyond measure – is also hugely powerful. It can be a real game-changer when it comes to raising aspirations right across a community and helping young people truly discover their talents.”
James Pape, principal of Oasis Academy Don Valley, likened being in an academy trust to a family.
He said: “For me being part of the Oasis multi-academy trust is similar to being part of a family, it is about how we can support one another, helping each other to provide the best possible teaching, learning and opportunities for our children. “As principals we regularly meet to discuss what is happening at our academies and how we might work together.
“Our teachers train together and share best practice – if one has developed an exceptional scheme of work that their pupils have really engaged with, then our pupils in our neighbouring schools can benefit from that too.
“Ultimately it is about working together for our pupils, their families and our local communities.”
Victoria Simcock, headteacher at Parkwood E-ACT Academy, in Shirecliffe, said her school has transformed its fortunes since it joined a trust.
It had been in ‘challenging circumstances’ but for the last three years has been in the top 20 per cent of schools nationally in terms of students’ progress.
“Historically, E-ACT sponsored academies that were in challenging circumstances, and being part of E-ACT has helped staff and leaders in Parkwood improve learning, outcomes and provision for both the students and the wider Parkwood community,” she said.
“Working with the trust, Parkwood has been recognised as a good school, for the last three years has been in the top 20 per cent of schools nationally in terms of progress and has this year received the best school in Sheffield award. “E-ACT also helped the school gain the fantastic, multi-million pound learning resource we call home.
“Being part of an academy and a multi-academy trust broadens opportunity for all stakeholders, staff have wider continuing professional development opportunities and a robust network of support from other staff in sibling academies, from the regional team of system leaders and from head office.
“Students benefit from the experience and good practice which is disseminated across the academies, and as the chain grows this in turn will increase the ability of leaders and teachers to further improve provision. As an academy we also work closely with local providers, other schools, other MATS and the local education authority and this is actively encouraged by the trust.
“Becoming an academy has given the school more choice, greater freedom and more support in terms of educational, legal, financial and HR matters.”
Andrew Truby, who is a National Leader of Education and executive headteacher at St Wilfrid’s Primary School, in Millhouses, and St Thomas of Canterbury, in Meadowhead, has also seen his schools flourish.
He said: “Since converting to academy status, our schools have gone from strength to strength, being judged as outstanding, establishing a nursery and being designated as a national teaching school. Learning Unlimited TSA is now a leading teaching school in the region.
“In 2012 when we converted, it was possible to be a single academy, however, this is no longer sustainable.
“Successful schools are now part of multi-academy trusts, where economies of scale and increased leadership capacity can be achieved. We work with a large number of schools and it is very important to be outward looking and to learn from high-performing academy chains.”
Mr Truby felt school leaders should consider carefully the capacity, ethos and ambition of a multi-academy trust before joining.
“Schools who form MATs and just continue to do what they are doing with no shared approach or centralisation will not feel the benefits of being part of a MAT and will most likely fail as a result,” he explained.
“This is a real opportunity for school leaders to take control of the educational landscape, build capacity and improve teaching and learning so that all children can go to a great school.
“We need to be making sensible decisions about workload without compromising on quality.
“Too many headteachers are still inward-looking and worried about autonomy and now it is time to take a shared responsibility for all of the children in all of our schools.”