There is a ‘dearth’ of good academy chain chief executives, warns free school founder Toby Young

Too few people are suitably qualified to run multi-academy trusts as chief executives, one of the pioneers of the free school movement has warned

Toby Young, the author and journalist who became an unlikely champion of the government’s free school programme, has said there are not enough people with the “unique set of skills” to manage an academy chain.

His comments come at a time when more chief executives will be required after the government committed itself to converting more schools into academies, despite being forced into a U-turn over a blanket approach to school conversion.

“I certainly think there is a dearth of suitably qualified people to run multi-academy trusts and we’re going to need more and more as time goes on,” Mr Young, who founded the West London Free School in 2011, said. “It’s a job requiring a unique set of skills that not many people possess.

“You want people who have educational experience, ideally as a headteacher or executive headteacher, but they also need to have a fair amount of business acumen too. Because they have to run what is effectively quite a large charity and there are not many people who can combine these different skill sets.”

He was speaking after TES reported that Mr Young had joined forces with Sir Anthony Seldon, former master of Wellington College and vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, and Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to create a new leadership college.

Mr Young made his comments to TES after it emerged that he was stepping down as CEO of the West London Free School Trust, which currently runs three schools, at the end of the academic year.

‘Flair isn’t always enough’

The Right-wing columnist decided to hand over the reins of the trust as it embarks on a expansion plan that will see it grow to around 10 or 20 schools in the coming years.

“You often find in a lot of fields that the person with the entrepreneurial flair to create an organisation isn’t always the best person to carry that organisation on to the next level,” he said.

And while the man described as the “poster boy” of the free school movement was adamant that the trust was in “great shape”, he said more needed to be done to produce chief executives for the growing number of MATs.

Mr Young has even taken the unusual step of emailing contacts to find appropriate candidates for the West London Free School. He said some of the difficulty chains have in recruiting good CEOs is down to the way MATs are perceived.

“The problem is that the MAT is too often regarded as a necessary evil to be managed, rather than an opportunity. But if they are set up properly they can create all sorts of benefits for the schools within them,” Mr Young added.

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