Some of the country’s most exciting educationalists have opened new schools in recent years. Teachers, parents and community groups, charitable organisations and existing schools have all embraced the blank page and the opportunity to do things differently. Over the last ten years, free schools have pushed boundaries in every direction, raising expectations and expanding horizons. Some have taken a radical approach, challenging prevailing ideas around the philosophy of education; others have tinkered, seizing the opportunity to build on great practice from around the world, implementing a wide variety of pedagogical and curricula approaches to meet the specific needs of their local communities.
In each instance, these new schools have brought verve, vigour and innovation to the educational landscape. But vigour and innovation alone are not enough.
Unless accompanied by exacting rigour and effective implementation, ambitious visions remain just those. To realise visions and accomplish founding missions, growing schools require a huge amount of operational and strategic expertise. Opening a brand new school is hard. We know. And it takes a long time. Typically, a new primary school won’t be ‘fully open’ for around seven years. Secondary schools grow at an even faster rate and even greater scale.
Though they start small, free schools are hugely complex organisations. They’re fast-growing start up organisations charged with transforming people’s lives. So leadership matters.
Set against a knotty backdrop of free school specific issues – transitioning between temporary and permanent accommodation, to highlight one common example – leaders must provide clarity to staff, governors, parents and pupils. But simple isn’t easy. It takes strong, skilful leaders to prioritise essential tasks in an ever-changing environment.
That’s why NSN is launching a new partnership with Star Institute, the teacher development branch of the incredibly successful Star Academies, led by Mufti Hamid Patel CBE. Star Academies have opened 15 free schools to date. Of those inspected by Ofsted, every single one has been judged Outstanding.
From September, we will be providing accredited National Professional Qualification (NPQ) programmes for headship and executive leadership – tailored to the specific needs of free schools.
The partnership makes the most of Star’s sector-leading programme delivery and NSN’s network of free school leaders. We actively encourage approaches from experienced, successful free school leaders who wish to contribute to the programme – our door is open, we really want to hear from you.
With the 500th free school opening in September, we need to ensure that the network is training and retaining the leaders required to drive the programme forward into the next phase; effecting high-impact positive change in areas of educational underperformance and empowering local people.
Free schools have renewed and emboldened aspiration in communities that have been let down for far too long. But not every community has experienced the benefits the free schools programme has delivered. If we are truly to spread educational excellence across the country we need to make sure that free schools don’t exist in isolated pockets of outstanding performance, but instead are able to share the lessons learnt with all types of schools.
We want to make sure that innovation is once again a driving force in the free schools movement and that leaders have all the tools required to deliver on their founding vision. Our free schools NPQ programmes will do just that.