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Freedom First for Academies and Free Schools

As new types of schools emerge on the educational landscape – from academies and free schools, to studio schools and technical and vocational colleges – so do new opportunities for school staff.

What’s the Situation?

According to the Department for Education, there are now nearly 3,000 academies in England – and around 50 per cent of all secondary schools are now academies.

An academy is a publicly funded, independent school, free of local authority control. Academies receive funding directly from the Education Funding Agency, meaning schools have freedom over how best to use their budget to benefit the students.

Other freedoms include the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff; freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum; and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days.

Many academies have a sponsor, including other successful schools, businesses, universities, charities and faith groups.

Similarly, free schools are state funded, but can be set up by a range of people, including teachers, charities, parents and education experts to address demand within a local area.

Why is this Model Appealing?

Speaking at one of our recent leadership forums, former education secretary Estelle Morris said she thought that schools today were freer than they have ever been. “I think perhaps the greatest freedom they’ve got is the freedom to look beyond their schools, and work with other schools and make partnerships,” she said.

Nick Hindmarsh is the head teacher of Dartmouth Academy in Devon, a school with 540 pupils from age 3-19. Nick agrees Estelle. “We are not being coerced into partnerships and relationships just because the local authority demands it,” he says. “Instead, our relationships with other schools are based on mutual self-interest, and that’s why the partnerships will last.”

Nick says becoming an academy has benefited the school in a number of other ways. “We have a large degree of autonomy in how we recruit staff, particularly administrative and non-teaching staff. We have autonomy over how we find staff too, so we can use local solutions and local service providers,” he says. This is vital in a school like the Dartmouth Academy, as Nick points out that the school is in a remote rural area, and that 80% of the school’s budget is spent on staffing.

Case Study: The Maltings Vocational College

Anthony Smith is the executive head of Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School, an ex-foundation school in Halifax, Yorkshire, that converted to an academy in 2011.

He is currently in the process of setting up a free school on the site of a disused brewery.

The vocational college, The Maltings, should open in September and will cater to 16-19 year olds.

“One of the advantages of free schools and studio schools is that these schools innovate specialise, and free schools can be linked to industry and specialist sectors,” he says.

At The Maltings, pupils will be “student employees”, studying a range of vocational courses including hair and beauty, horticulture and engineering.

Links with Industry Build Strong Bonds for Students

Anthony says that The Maltings will have strong links to local and national businesses in order to ensure that the skills and knowledge students learn match the skills industry needs. All the hair and beauty staff, for example, are currently working in the industry, and the opening hours of the college will also be flexible, and geared towards industry.
For example, hair and beauty students will be expected to work evenings and weekends, just as they would when working in a beauty salon.

Such a model, Anthony says, is “innovative and flexible” and he expects school staff to be similarly flexible. The ability to be entrepreneurial is key, he says, along with a hands-on experience of industry.

Putting Entrepreneurial Skills into Action: The Fountain Springs Day Nursery

Anthony and his staff have already shown off their entrepreneurial skills to aplomb – in 2011, the Fountain Springs Day Nursery opened in The Maltings building. Owned and managed by Hipperholme & Lightcliffe High School, the nursery serves a two-fold purpose. As well as being a way of generating revenue for the school, the nursery will also serve as a resource for students studying childcare to do work placements and see a business develop as a real world case study.

How Hays can help

Academies and free schools are a great option for school staff who want to innovate and take control of the education agenda.

Academies and free schools will be looking to hire staff who are flexible, imaginative, forward-thinking and able to work autonomously, and we are in the perfect position to help you get a role that’s right for you.

Be Part of the Journey

“Certainly, I’ve got more autonomy as a head, which is important,” says Nick. He says that his staff are happier too. “There is a cultural aspect that comes with academies that all our staff understand – that their future is in their own hands. That’s a huge incentive for some staff, and I see this freedom as a hugely constructive and positive force for change. If you want to be part of that journey, you can make a difference now.”

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