The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Why I believe that a sector body is necessary

I’ve been around from the beginning of the academy movement. Academies have seen a huge transformation of the system. When we started, academisation was seen to be addressing the problems of a small number of the worst performing schools in the country.

Then the system grew. I’m not sure we expected that nearly half the children and young people in the country would be educated in the academy system.

The Department for Education initially found it difficult to hold this emerging system to account. We are building capacity slowly – but there is so much more to do.

I’m interested in problems – how you turn things round. How you change things. It is a problem that trusts have no voice and no way of speaking authoritatively to government, outside of individual relationships that some CEOs and chairs may have.

Therefore, I believe that a sector body – a national organisation – for schools and groups of schools is necessary.

We need to create the conditions for collective action, by which I mean trusts working together. Of course, people have something to gain by not acting collaboratively. Collaboration is time-consuming and the payoffs are not always immediate.

We also need to build the capacity of the system together. This means ensuring that trusts have the incentives to collaborate and the capacity to do so, while still focusing on building excellence in their group of schools.

A national organisation can accentuate and accelerate this.

The best defence against criticism of the system is to create great groups of schools. If we care about creating a group of great schools – about creating educational opportunity – our drive should not be to fulfil the terms of ‘edicts’ issued to us – money, the department, Ofsted. None of this is the goal itself. The definition of success is about building schools that we believe are truly excellent.

We’ve made a start on something that is exciting, but there is so much more to do.

As I said recently to the TES, “it’s mountains beyond mountains. You have that thing where you reach the top of the mountain, you think you’ve got great results, and then the peak rises beyond that.”

The next challenge in the system – our next peak – is to work together so that we really learn from each other, to build an excellent education system together.