Leadership, Culture, Performance: Exploring the effects of educational policy for an under-performing coastal school in England that became an academy.

Year: 2017

Author: Overden-Hope,Tanya, Passy, Rowena

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Department for Education in England (UK) has implemented one of the most radical reform programmes for state (public) education in the world through the change of schools to academy status. These academies are independent, non-selective, state-funded schools managed by teams of independent sponsors rather than the local authority.
This paper reports on a longitudinal qualitative study of a new academy in 2010 that converted from a failing school and is located in a socio-economically disadvantaged coastal region in England. The research was conducted over seven years and methods of data collection included an annual: evaluation of the academy's publicly-available data; examination of academy improvement plan; interview with the principal/vice principal; interview with four teachers and 15 students (from the class of 2010).
The data were analysed thematically, using the different areas relating to the academy's environmental (contextual), organisational and experiential circumstances. The main themes arising were: leadership for change, change through teaching and learning, issues with recruiting staff, difficulties with engaging parents, and transitions in learner expectations. This research provides rich data over time on the establishment of an academy's school culture and the impact of this on student attainment and expectations for their future.
The main conclusions of this study are:
- Being an academy provides a school with the autonomy to change structures and processes as required to effect the structural change being sought by the senior leadership team;
- The academy had an inclusive and transformational leadership team that moved teaching to good or better; advocated and expected positive behaviour that enabled learning.
- Increasing parental engagement and staff recruitment were a challenge to the school due in large to the socio-economically disadvantage of the area (poor educational experiences of parents and low employment for teachers' spouse).
- The students in the case study academy had increased expectations over time due to the change in school culture.
The relative freedom given to academies in England is similar to free schools in Sweden and charter schools in the United States, and this research provides examples of how these freedoms have been used in the attempt to change the culture of low aspirations and under-attainment.
The findings from this study can improve educational practice by suggesting leadership approaches to policy and practice to support a change in school culture to one of high expectation for attainment.