Speed commission into the 'academisation' of schools announced by RSA and Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning

5 April 2012

A new commission is set to examine the implications of the 'mass academisation' of state schools and the impact this might have on educational outcomes.

Announced today by the RSA, the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, together with current sponsors for the commission - the Cooperative and CfBT Education Trust, the Academies Commission follows a rapid increase in the number of schools converting to academy status with numbers swelling from 200 to 1635 since the coalition government came to power.

The commission will be chaired by former Chief-Inspector of Schools Christine Gilbert who will be joined by two other commissioners - Brett Wigdortz (CEO of Teach First) and Professor Chris Husbands (Director of the Institute of Education).

Commenting on the launch, Chair of the commission Christine Gilbert said:

"The rapid expansion of academies is fundamental to the coalition government's education policies.  This represents major structural change to the English school system but little has been done to explore the implications and impact of this expansion. We intend the work of the commission to be a constructive contribution to the debate on academy policy and practice, in particular to the impact of academisation on school improvement and on young people's learning and achievement."

The commission will address two principal questions:

  • What are the implications of complete academisation for school improvement and pupil attainment?
  • How can improvement and attainment best be secured within an academised system?


Commission remit


The commission will examine the model and incipient outcomes of academisation from a school improvement perspective, focusing on issues of accountability, governance, due diligence, and outcomes for pupils.

It will highlight emerging trends, risks, and related questions, concentrating on public interest. It will also draw on international examples of similar systems and cases, to inform and compare analyses.

It will not rehearse debates about the decision to develop the academies programme, but will focus on the consequences of this programme in terms of outcomes for children and young people and for the education system as a whole.

Particular attention will be given to the key issues of:

  • accountability including processes via which schools are held accountable; the role of the sponsor; commissioning of services; governance; operation of local markets; due diligence (e.g. what happens when performance worsens or fails to improve under a particular sponsor or chain?)
  • educational outcomes and how to lever school improvement in an academised system, given school autonomy.


Adam Lent, Director of Programme at the RSA, said:

"Because commissions can take years to report, they often focus only on the most overarching questions and even then sometimes miss their moment. So, RSA Speed Commissions will get leading experts to take an intensive look at the more immediate issues confronting Politicians with the aim of reporting in no more than nine months.  There are few more pressing concerns in government now than how to make the academies programme really work for kids and parents, so this is a perfect topic for our first Speed Commission."

Professor Becky Francis, Director of the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, who will head up the Commission Secretariat, said:

"This commission may be quick but it will be determinedly rigorous.  We are delighted to have commissioners with the depth and breadth of knowledge displayed by Christine, Chris and Brett but we will also put in place a comprehensive research and consultancy programme to draw in as many views and as much expert evidence as possible.  This will be the first detailed attempt to understand what the education sector and the wider public really thinks must be done to make the startlingly rapid rise of academies work for pupils."

Visit the Academies Commission website for more information.

Biographies

Professor Christine Gilbert CBE was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) at Ofsted from 2006 until 2011. Prior to this, Christine was Chief Executive of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She joined the Council in 1997 as Corporate Director, Education, having been Director of Education in the London Borough of Harrow. Christine spent 18 years teaching in schools, eight of them as a secondary school headteacher. Currently, Christine is Visiting Professor of Education at the Institute of Education. She is also undertaking a number of local and national education projects.

Brett Wigdortz has led Teach First as its CEO since its launch in July 2002. Brett wrote the original business plan for the charity while working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and then took what was originally planned as a six-month leave of absence in February 2002 to develop and build support for the idea. Before coming to London, his previous time at McKinsey was spent as a consultant in Indonesia, Singapore, and Manila - focusing on retail banking, organisational effectiveness, and Asian microfinance. Prior to McKinsey, Brett developed southeast Asia policy and business programmes at the Asia Society in New York City. He has also worked as a journalist in Asia and as a researcher at the East-West Center in Honolulu, focusing on energy and economic development issues. He was recently named the 2007 UK Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year and the 2010 CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) European Leadership Award. Brett is married with two small children.

Chris Husbands
is the Director of the Institute of Education and Professor of Education. He has research interests in curriculum and teacher development and in policy in relation to schools and pedagogy. He is an appointed Board Member of the Training and Development Agency for Schools and of the National Trust Learning Panel.