La La Land

la-la-land

There was a time when the Local Authority ruled supreme. The LA controlled all schools and, as such, all schools were linked. The LA collected all the money from central government and decided how it would be shared across its schools. The LA kept some money back for itself to create services that its schools would – must – use. These ranged from the sort of corporate services (that head teachers hoped they wouldn’t need to use – or understand – such as HR and Legal) to educational services (that head teachers were told they needed to use to improve further, such as school improvement officers and LA-wide data sets). Every school was entitled to LA support and this ensured that no school was left behind.

Except, of course, some were.

There is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: some schools, sometimes, go wrong.

Welcome to LA land.

When this happened, the LA would spring into action. The school would be given more support until it improved. It would have to improve because there was no option for it not to. Sometimes improvements came quickly, sometimes they did not. Schools are complex beasts and they can’t always be fixed by chucking money and resources at it. But, as the LA controlled everything, they had ultimate accountability and there was nowhere for them to hide.

Sometimes, other schools moaned about the LA. What did the LA ever do for them? Forget all the corporate services – who cares about them? – why couldn’t they get more out of the LA? Why was the LA always concerned with the crap schools and not theirs? Why were some of the LA services rubbish? Why couldn’t schools seek out their own services that could be better? Of course, schools that were succeeding could enjoy complete autonomy by creating their own infrastructures; shaping their own curriculum; devising their own approaches to teaching and learning; bringing in their own CPD opportunities; managing their own budgets and working in collaboration with other schools if they wished. Technically, as long as they were delivering the goods, it didn’t really matter. And maybe these schools could be forgiven for wondering what the LA, apart from admissions, safeguarding and SEND arrangements, was actually doing for them.

Then, somebody had a bright idea. Schools could come out from under the LA’s control. They could be standalone schools. Free to do whatever they wanted and, what’s more, they would have more money with which to do it with.

More money?

How?

Because you wouldn’t have to give the LA any money for all their services as you’d be getting them from somewhere else. Up and down the land, schools began to imagine the possibilities. Finally, they could employ their own caterers, HR officers, Lawyers, and accountants. It was as if every educationalist’s dream had come true. Even better than that, you’d be totally on your own. Free from the shackles of the LA who were either leaving you alone to get on with it, or, getting involved because something had gone wrong.

True, some schools couldn’t really see the benefits and decided to carry on as normal.

But those that could see some benefits busied themselves with becoming an academy. Not a school. An academy. An academy where new freedoms meant they could do whatever they wished. Free to spend every penny of the people’s money to get better results, for otherwise, what would have been the point? Academies sought out alternative corporate services and invented ways to generate additional income revenues. Some of them, presumably, found newer ways to deliver teaching and learning that LA schools were not aware of. We heard less about this bit.

Gradually the LA responded by improving its services. Schools, who had never even been aware of the myriad of backroom services provided by the LA, were suddenly invited to meetings to discuss how to improve the quality of the LA’s core offer. Without having to change the name of the school, or having to become a Principal Executive, Heads were becoming more involved in improving the business side of their school. And all at no extra cost.

Then the costs began. Not satisfied with Local Authorities offering their schools more ‘freedoms’ the government decided to further weaken the LA through economic strangulation. Meanwhile, those academies who were (to everyone’s surprise, not least of all theirs) also facing the pinch were resorting to alternative strategies to try and convince their board members that everything was still A-OK; such as flouting admission rules to engineer their pupil intake and using questionable exclusion policies to drive out vulnerable pupils. This heady mix of dubious uses of academy freedoms and local authority neutering only served to make life harder in LA land.

However…

A dim light had been switched on. A cheap neon sign that read ‘join us’ flickered in the dark. Illuminated promises of ‘freedoms’ and ‘cash’ burned the retinas of every LA maintained Head that stared at it for too long. And stood there, flicking the switch as they handed out their glossy ‘sign now, read later’ articles of association, were the regional school commissioners. MATs, they whispered, were the answer. Multi Academy Trusts are the only way you’ll make your school work. The LA is dead. Step over its twitching corpse and join a MAT. Why, we’ll even let you create your own. Imagine that! Create your own MAT [subject to our approval] and the world could be yours!

What could schools do? No matter where they looked they were either facing cuts, a diminishing service from the LA and increasing demands from the communities they served. And all the time the RSCs were whispering matspeak into their ears. Gradually, one by one, they walked towards the light, unable to notice if they were getting burned.

Multi Academy Trusts are the future.

Resistance is futile.

Soon there will be one MAT to rule us all.

Resistance is futile.

There will be a time when the MAT will rule supreme. The MAT will control all schools and, as such, all schools will be linked. The MAT will collect all the money from central government and decide how it will be shared across its schools. The MAT will keep some money back for itself to create services that its schools would – must – use. These will range from the sort of corporate services (that heads of school hope they’ll never need to use or understand, such as HR and Legal) to educational services (that heads of school will be told by the Exec they need to use in order to improve further, such as school improvement officers and MAT-wide data sets). Every school will be entitled to MAT support and this will ensure that no school is left behind.

Except, of course, some will be.

There is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: some schools, sometimes, go wrong.

Welcome to La La land.

9 thoughts on “La La Land

  1. mhorley February 15, 2017 / 1:04 pm

    Very useful article – thanks! The only bit you missed is the role of governors, i.e. they have a role under an LA, they don’t under a MAT. So it’s not exactly the same… Oh and the cost of paying lawyers to change the governance structure and legal frameworks when moving from LA -> MAT, the return journey, of course not being possible.

  2. jcg812 February 15, 2017 / 4:23 pm

    City of stars
    Are you shining just for me?
    City of stars
    There’s so much that I can’t see
    Who knows?

  3. Christine Dickens February 15, 2017 / 6:13 pm

    Well, if people couldn’t see this coming they need to open their eyes! Just need to look at the issue of Governance as it’s long overdue a rethink.

  4. Laura Prince February 15, 2017 / 7:49 pm

    Brilliant article made me smile ………..lets just keep reinventing the wheel!!

  5. Helen Hilton February 15, 2017 / 9:14 pm

    What a brilliant an doh so true article! I have firmly resisted the enticement of acadamisation and will continue to do so!

  6. johnpetermccance February 15, 2017 / 9:52 pm

    It is sad to see MAT becoming the norm in England and Wales. My colleagues and I, that work abroad, cannot believe what we are hearing and seeing. The UK government has a lot to answer for. Thankfully, my native Scotland has not joined the race to the bottom, YET. University fees being raised to such a high rate in England and Wales is another worry.

    Like you alluded to, I don’t think there is any way back to the normality of schools being maintained by LA once they have been lured to the Darkside. It seems like the UK government’s handling of the education system is a real-life pantomime.

  7. Raj Unsworth February 16, 2017 / 8:27 am

    We have exchanged one set of problems for another. Some of the worst MATs are behaving like the worst LAs. Off the top of my head, cannot think of any LA school improvement services judged good or o/s. As for MATs, it’s time they were inspected under an appropriate framework.

    As someone else has pointed out above, you have forgotten to mention Governance. Irrespective of school structure, good effective Governance is essential to the success of our schools.

  8. London City Mum February 16, 2017 / 2:22 pm

    You have put (brilliantly, I might add) into words what I have been saying to my GB and school for the past couple of years.
    La La Land indeed.

  9. teachwell February 16, 2017 / 3:51 pm

    How many people in Local Authorities lost their jobs as a result of poor performance of schools? How much money was wasted on the Buy Back Scheme to pay for internet services and how much additional money did schools have to pay to be able to use the additional bandwidth that they had in fact already paid for? How many behaviour support teams were held to account for the fact that their interventions failed?

    I have my misgivings about MATs but at least failing ones are being dealt with and people are losing their jobs if they can’t improve a school. In the Local Authorities I worked for no such thing happened. Instead schools were being given poor out of date advice by people who had almost total job security no matter what the outcome. I don’t buy things were better.

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