Come January I'll have worked in an academy for a year. Our school was rated as 'inadequate' by Ofsted two years ago this month. This is the part where I hasten to add that I joined the school in September last year, quickly distancing myself from any association with the grading. I took the job based on the weakness of the report - the challenge appealed to me. Who wouldn't want to work in an inner-city school boasting the accumulating problems of years of declining leadership? I remember sitting in bed reading the report and gasping out loud at what it contained. I remember visiting the school to be the told by the new head (who had already been appointed before 'the visit') that "the report was kind." I went to interview and accepted an Assistant Headship at the school, knowing that very soon the local authority would relinquish its responsibilities and that an academy chain would be 'taking over'.
It was my decision to work in an academy. Some of the existing staff members were highly suspicious of the change. As are most who are anticipating the passing of The Education Bill in which failing schools are to be forced into academisation without even the consultation of parents or teachers. And there are some awful stories which would only serve to heighten fears, but mine is not one of them.
As mentioned before, the current head started in the new year, post killer Ofsted. She quickly set about making changes (no time to outline those here). When the school became an academy - part of a large local chain - she retained her status as leader of the school. Whilst she has become part of a bigger machine, she still makes the decisions that are right for the school. In our chain, each head has autonomy as the academy recognises that its leaders know their individual schools best. Maybe, we've struck gold and other academies are not structured in this way, but they can't all be bad, surely?
As an academy we have benefited in other ways:
Parents were initially vehemently against the academisation, but a year on perceptions have changed. They see now a school run by professional people with their children's best interests at heart. They see us as part of a bigger force for good in our city - there is a sense of belonging amongst our stakeholders. They see that as a result of the aforementioned leadership, under the academy's umbrella, that major changes are taking place and transforming their children's education. Whilst we still have our challenges, no longer is it an 'Inadequate' school.
Staff, on the whole, now feel proud too to be a part of the chain and there is a greater sense of teamwork and belonging; our staff Christmas meal was apparently the best attended in many years. Positive working relationships with other schools in the group are beginning to be fostered and expertise is being shared.
The children notice the difference the most - they are learning more, more quickly, and enjoying it. They look smarter in our new uniform. They like the tighter routines and the maximisation of learning time. But they would not put the changes down to the academisation, but to the shift in 'how things are done', which all points back to the leadership (most children would recognise the change came about when the head changed).
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