University-backed academy trusts haven’t always had a good press. The Government wants more universities to become involved in schools, particularly by sponsoring academies, but university involvement in schools hasn’t proved to be a magic bullet.
That said, one university-backed academy trust has just received a glowing report from Ofsted. Inspectors identified qualities shown by the University of Chichester Academy Trust following a focussed inspection. These included:
1 Education quality was ‘improving rapidly’.
2 The university was ‘fully committed’ to its academy trust.
3 The university’s Institute of Education provided ‘valuable expertise’.
4 The trust used its understanding of strengths and weakness in its academies to establish ‘well-targeted challenge and support’.
5 The trust provided ‘very effective support’ for administrative duties which enabled school leaders to focus on school improvement. (Author’s note: isn’t this what happens in schools under the stewardship of local authorities where LA backroom support allows heads to concentrate on education?)
6 Leadership and management were judged good or better in all academies inspected since joining the trust even when overall effectiveness wasn’t good.
7 The trust recognised that each of its academies was unique and should ‘develop its own individual identity’ tailored to each academy’s context. (Author’s note: this is in contrast to the approach of some academy trust which develop a group ‘brand’ of identikit academies.)
The report shows that if university involvement is to be successful then the university must be fully committed to its academies. This won’t be achieved by the Government passing laws which tell universities they should increase their involvement. Universities which feel they are better concentrating on their core purposes – higher education and research – or which would rather increase school involvement in other ways - outreach, perhaps - shouldn’t feel compelled by Government diktat to sponsor a few academies. Universities should only become involved with running schools only if they genuinely wish to do so and can commit adequate resources and expertise over the long term.
UPDATE: The headline has been amended to show this news has only just broken.