England’s schools tsar expands on his vision: 14 new things we learned from Sir David Carter

Sir David Carter gave heads an insight into his vision for the future of the system at a packed meeting at the Association of School and College Leaders this weekend. Here is what they learned from, and about, England’s new national schools commissioner:

  1. He thinks only three things make a real difference to school improvement – getting teaching right, leadership and collaboration
  2. Sir David admits there is “real confusion” about school accountability at the moment. But the commissioner, who has been jockeying for position with Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw as the system’s top dog, acknowledges that the watchdog does have a “vital” role to “assess how well schools perform against schools with same the context”. His team of regional schools commissioners are there to use those Ofsted verdicts to “challenge and support those schools not yet good enough”, he said.
  3. Sir David sees his new TES column and tweeting from @Carter6D as key ways of communicating with schools
  4. By the end of the decade there are likely to be many more academy chains or MATs (multi-academy trusts).
  5. But existing MATs – most of which now have three to five schools – will need to expand or merge to take in 10, 15, or 20 academies. However Sir David noted there had been examples of trusts that had grown too fast.
  6. The optimum size of a MAT should be measured in terms of number of pupils not numbers of schools because it is per pupil funding that determines their viablilty. And the miniumum size is: 1200 pupils
  7. MATs should be top slicing around 5 or 6 per cent of their pupil income funding for central services – any less than 3 per cent is unviable
  8. The bare essentials of a MAT are an exective head, a finance director and a human resources manager: “Someone to be accountable for education standards, someone to keep you of jail and someone to keep you out of tribunals!”
  9. But they may also need be flexible – it may make sense to have finance directors across several trusts
  10. A school’s membership of a MAT “probably does” reduce its autonomy
  11. Sir David has found that some MATs are better at diagnosing problems than finding solutions
  12. But MATs are the best antidotes to difficulties caused by competition between schools
  13. There could still be room for a local authority maintained good or outstanding standalone school. “Yes of course there is,” Sir David said, but added: “Why would you not become an academy and contribute to some form of trust?”
  14. He’s working it out as he goes along: “I have got much more to do on this but I wanted to share it with you.”
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