The Rational Actor

There will be many school governing bodies considering the Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper (and it’s subsequent trials and tribulations) and wondering what should we do now?

Obviously those schools already in MATs have made their decision already. For those that sit as single maintained schools, or single academies the years ahead are fraught with difficult decisions. Let me try and help.

There are a number of considerations that need to be kept in mind when trying to make any decision.

Firstly it is the governments stated aim that all schools become academies. Now, you may agree or disagree with this aim. You may have copious statistics that prove your point one way or the other. Those are, I’m afraid, of little use in this discussion. The only thing at issue is how likely is it that the governments aim will be met?

To this end the government will have many powerful levers. There will be carrots (for example the Sponsor Capacity Fund) and there will be sticks (failing schools and LA’s will be converted). There will also be precipices that appear – LAs that lose capacity through the conversion of too many of their schools will have their remaining schools converted, outstanding or otherwise. At the moment we do not know the detail of the tests that will be applied here but whilst they will not be able to be egregiously biased in favour of conversion, neither are they likely to be antithetical to the governments drive for academisation.

There is also the idea that if a school waits long enough the “every school an academy” policy will go away. I’d say that this is wishful thinking.

The current government is highly unlikely to change this policy. I think that is a given. If so, then the only possibility of a change in policy comes with a change of government. Which means we have to consider two things.

How likely is it that there will be a change of government before 2025? My assessment is that this is less than an evens chance. Much less.

And then we have to consider what the policy of the next government would be in the circumstances it found itself in. The likelihood is that by 2020 we will have a system that is somewhere between 50% and 80% academised (with, on current trends likely all secondaries that can already converted). Given the levers mentioned above this will be nearer to 80% than 50%. On this basis any government is likely make the decision to continue with the previous policy. There may be tinkering with making LAs responsible for accountability or something, but there will be no going back to the pre-2010 position. It won’t happen. Structurally, all schools will end up as academies.

Consequently, my view is that a rational actor in this situation has to proceed on the basis that aim of full academisation will be realised some time prior to 2025.

So this is the climate in which the decision will have to be taken. Bluntly, it’s a decision of “do” or “be done to”.

Firstly lets consider the single maintained school currently in a position to make their own decision.

They have the following options:

  • Do nothing (in terms of academisation)
  • Convert to an academy as a Single Academy Trust (SAT) – there are other considerations that follow from this but I will consider them later when looking at the options for a current SAT.
  • Join with a group of other schools and form their own Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)
  • Join an existing MAT

In the context I have described above, “do nothing” means “wait until someone else makes the decision for me”. This might appear to be a principled position to take. I’m not so sure of this. If you are a great school you are gambling with the future of your schools ethos. Unless the chips fall the right way over the coming years you will be forced to academise under someone else’s conditions and likely be given over to someone else’s ethos.

At this point lets also consider the current single academies. Their options are:

  • Do nothing
  • Join an existing MAT
  • Form a MAT of your own
  • Form an umbrella trust with other SATs.

If you are a small, unviable SAT and do nothing you will be invited to join an existing MAT. This includes virtually all primary schools. Similarly if you don’t meet the criteria for being “successful”.

Secondary SATs will have to pass the same tests. It is more likely that a secondary could be described as “viable”. However, I would ask you to consider this. As more and more schools move into MATs is it likely that the overall school funding budget will increase or decrease relative to the present position? If it decreases then single schools, unless they are super-sized, will find it very hard to be considered viable. Remember, this is a lever that government controls. They want most schools in MATs. That’s what their levers will be designed to make happen.

As an aside, the financial viability test will tend to militate against umbrella trusts being the answer as they are not (in my view) able to generate the same economies of scale as a MAT.

So I would say if you think your school is the best for its students and its ethos should be maintained, then you have to “do” and not “be done to”.

At the end, I believe the decision for all schools at the moment, logically, rationally, comes down to “join an existing MAT” or “form our own MAT”.

And for that decision, dear reader, you’re on your own.

My only suggestion to you is that you should pro-actively consider the options and take a decision based on what is likely to happen and not what you would prefer to happen.

Don’t wait for someone to take it for you.