It’s been almost ten years since The Academies Act was introduced, enabling maintained schools to become converter academies. At the time, many education experts had their misgivings about the scheme. Were their fears unnecessary, or a sign of struggles to come?
Before we can answer that question, it’s important to examine the motivation behind the scheme.
Why Converter Academies?
When academies were first introduced, struggling schools would be supported by private sponsors after a 10% academy cost investment. These investors included individuals and larger organisations and would be ultimately responsible for attainment.
Nowadays, any person or organisation can sponsor a trust at their own financial discretion. This makes it possible for outstanding schools to take over the day-to-day running of underperforming schools, expanding their resources and sharing skills, processes and good practice. Since 2016, all schools rated inadequate have been made by the government to become sponsored academies.
When converter academies were introduced, the doors were opened for any good or outstanding-rated school to convert to academy status and benefit from greater autonomy. They have the freedom to set their own curriculum, staff pay, and school time, free of Local Education Authority (LEA) influence – although, of course, they are still beholden to the same laws as any other school. At last count, converter academies vastly outnumber sponsored academies by 6,996 to 1,101.
We’re almost 10 years on from the introduction of converter academies now, and almost half (47%) of the UK’s pupils are now taught in academies. So, were people right about their academy fears, or has the scheme been a resounding success?
Local Authority Fears
There were fears that converter academies would shrink local authority HR teams, causing difficulties for non-academy schools who had HR needs. As the need for HR in an area diminishes due to widespread academisation, LEA team sizes may have shrunk in accordance. This could affect recruitment and retention for any schools reliant on this resource.
Advances in HR tech have also provided elegant solutions to HR issues. Academisation has enabled schools to seek their own software HR solutions, such as PS People, bringing down the admin costs of managing staff and finances.
Amidst fears that pay inequality might return, a two-tier system began to emerge. As academy schools have the best facilities and can offer better pay and benefits, they can often attract the best teaching staff, leaving other schools in the area to become underperforming “sink schools”. Eventually, this can lead to poor results and academy sponsorship, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
The flexibility of pay packets can also cause two-tier workforces to emerge within academies, with pre-existing staff on one wage and benefits package and new staff on a different, higher amount. This could have opened the door for wage manipulation.
On the flip side of that coin, academisation has also led to greater efficiencies in financing. Many academies are already fighting back against negative academy stereotyping by implementing deep analysis tools such as PS Analytics.
For example, PS Analytics’ gender pay gap view helps academies and trusts to eliminate pay inequalities at their source. As more and more maintained schools convert, these tools will assume ever-greater importance to educators
Ultimately, widespread academy conversion has afforded many benefits for schools. The financial freedom and ability to take advantage of modern-day tech advances far outweighs many of people’s fears.
These schools are free to adopt new HR practices. Unfortunately, in working with outside businesses and agencies, many schools have been faced with increased costs and frustration, rather than a simplified, affordable process.
Greater control over school HR processes has improved the end result for schools, but other pressures across all areas of school business are preventing schools from reaping the full benefits.
Because of these difficulties, the new wave of school HR thinking has moved away from expensive outsourcing and into the digital sphere. Over the next decade, academies will begin to look at software for new innovations in HR.
If you want to get ahead of the curve and become an early adopter of leading HR technology, visit the PS People site to find out more.