Hands up if you have heard of Paul Smith – and no, we do not mean the fashion designer.
There are no doubt many Paul Smiths, but the one we are referring to is the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for Lancashire and West Yorkshire (which is an interesting geographical combination).
Appointed last year to the newly created role, Mr Smith has powers devolved to him from the Secretary of State. These include allowing schools to convert to academies; deciding whether academies can expand or reduce their intake; and sending warning notices to underperforming academies.
So far the role has been focussed on existing academies and schools applying to convert to an academy. This is now expanding! With effect from July 2015, RSCs can intervene in under-performing state schools and convert them into academies under a sponsor.
In fact, one of the key performance indicators of the RSC is the percentage of eligible schools in their area issued with an academy order. ‘Eligible schools’ are essentially those that are not already an academy or similar and that are not in an Ofsted unsatisfactory category. This means that schools that have in the past been seen as basically sound will be targeted by RSCs for conversion to academy.
At the same time, The Education and Adoption Bill is proposing a raft of new powers and duties for the Secretary of State to intervene directly and order schools to become academies. The process of conversion in these circumstances is also being streamlined.
There has been a growing trend towards regionally-based Multi-Academy Trusts and this is expected to continue. It is quite likely that existing academies, including standalone academies, will be encouraged by the RSC to take on new converters as part of a multi-academy trust arrangement.
So it seems that Paul Smith will have a major role to play in designing the educational landscape in our area over the next few years.