Academy angst, by Rod Aldridge

14 Sep 09
ROD ALDRIDGE | As the sponsor of two academies, I am very much in favour of Schools’ Secretary Ed Balls’ announcement last week bringing the end of the £2m entry fee for future academy sponsorships

As the sponsor of two academies – Darwen Aldridge Community Academy near Blackburn and the Falmer Academy near Brighton – I am very much in favour of Schools’ Secretary Ed Balls’ announcement last week bringing the end of the £2m entry fee for future academy sponsorships.

This regularises the system that has always seemed to bring anomalies in that some pay the full sum, while others pay less by bringing partners to their sponsorship. In the case of universities or public schools that sponsor an academy, they pay nothing on the grounds that they bring their ‘DNA’. What also happens when you sponsor a number of academies? In one way or another, all sponsors bring a great deal to the programme.

I believe that it is a positive step to encourage new potential sponsors, on the basis of their commitment and ability. But it will be necessary to ensure that there is a rigorous test of suitability. When looking at those applying to be sponsors, the Department for Children, Schools and Families must ask not just what their prior experience in education is, but what that individual or organisation can offer to the young people who will be attending the academy.

It should also question whether they have the time, dedication and resources to deliver and achieve what they set out to. For those considering becoming a sponsor, I can tell them it is a richly rewarding experience but takes for more time and effort than one believes or is told by the department.

I also question the need for 400 academies – a target set in 2007 and clung onto religiously as a measure of success. Is that still the right number – is it strictly necessary? And can it actually be achieved with the consistency of quality and performance that is necessary?

The purpose of an academy is to transform the learning experience for the children attending it, and to turn around the educational attainment levels of the predecessor school. In order to achieve this, every academy needs a principal and a senior leadership team that is capable of taking the sponsor’s vision, developing it, and making it a reality.

While there are a huge number of extremely capable and visionary headteachers in Britain, finding that spark that defines someone as having the ability to take an under-performing school and turn into a top ranking academy gets increasingly difficult with every academy that is opened.

Rod Aldridge is chair of the Aldridge Foundation

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