Is it possible to simplify our education system?

Anyone who works in schools or academies will often be asked to explain what is the difference between a school and an academy? What is a multi-academy trust? It’s easy to forget when working inside the education bubble how confusing our current fragmented education system is to parents and the wider community. To cut through the education jargon is one thing, to understand the governance of multi-academy trusts and the difference between a maintained school and an academy is quite another challenge. This week the EDSK think tank produced a report called Trust Issues – How to bring academies and maintained schools into a unified state school system

 The report begins, “Approximately one-third of primary schools and three-quarters of secondary schools now operate as ‘academies’ i.e. state schools that are outside of local authority control. In effect, England now has two sets of state schools which are run separately from one another – local authority (‘maintained’) schools and academies. Inevitably, this has produced a fragmented and incoherent education system, with little sign of improvement on either front. What’s more, neither maintained schools or academies appear to be out-performing the other, yet considerable energy is being expended by politicians and civil servants to maintain the distinction between these two systems.”

The report goes on to make several recommendations, “The Department for Education should no longer refer to ‘academies’ or ‘free schools’ in The State School System Act 2020 or any related documentation. Instead, the standard term for referring to all government-funded schools should simply be ‘state schools’.” It also suggests that “the default option for existing maintained schools should be that they join a new form of school grouping called a ‘local schools trust’ (based on the current model for multi-academy trusts) that will be created to allow local authorities to run state schools in their area.”  The report says, “inconsistencies between the two state school systems make it harder for stakeholders to understand how and where taxpayers’ money is being used.”

Whether or not you agree with the report’s recommendations; whether or not you think their ideas are achievable in our current political climate – one thing is clear, all schools, academies and multi-academy trusts need to get better at communicating. They have a duty to explain exactly what it is they do and how they do it in a way that can be understood by everyone. Transparency and clarity is what is needed whilst our education system remains in such a complicated state.

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