The Premier Academy

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by The Premier Academy's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from The Premier Academy is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Headteacher: Warren Harrison
Make a good first
Warren Harrison became the headteacher of a 198-pupil
school in 2002. Led by three different heads in the
previous two years, it was deemed a failing school.
This should be understood, however, in the context of it serving
a community in the highest 10 per cent of social deprivation.
This is not an insurmountable barrier, and Warren’s successful
efforts at ensuring continuity are testament to this fact –
something he tells
The Parliamentary Review
Starting off on the right foot
My previous experience had been atypical. I worked in international schools as well
as UK local authority schools. The international schools flourished or perished on
meeting the expectations of fee-paying parents. Those expectations included high
achievement, but also breadth of experience for children, a feeling of wellbeing,
and security, combined with a genuine sense of belonging.
The governors made it clear to me at The Premier Academy: they wanted to see
the school blossom and its reputation rise. This message was delivered on the same
day that the school’s budget was revealed: £32,000 in the bank, 23 staff and a
plummeting roll, sitting at 198.
The governors and staff worked together on initiatives to help the school reverse
its years of decline. The LA seemed not to share that ambition. One clear example
was that many pupils entered school without nursery experience. We approached
the LA and requested that we open a nursery as part of the school. The response
was depressing – the LA had enough nursery places. Nursery places were available,
»Headteacher: Warren Harrison
»Founded in 1953
»Located in Bletchley, Milton
»Type of school: Academy
»No. of pupils: 630
»First outstanding primary
converter in the country
The Premier Academy
Highlighting best practice
but parents would need to drive. The
families were fully aware of vacant
places but couldn’t juggle part-time
nursery places across town with their
jobs and home locations. Simply put,
the nurseries were in the wrongplace.
Having had our request for support
rejected, we sought alternatives.
We secured grant funding and
established a private nursery on
the school site. It was full almost
immediately and has gone from
strength to strength since. We now
cater for 120 pre-school children, as
a consequence of which school pupils
now arrive with invaluable pre-school
experience. This has a positive impact
on their achievement throughout
Building momentum
This taught us that if we wanted
to turn the school into a beacon of
excellence, we would need to look
to our own devices. We established a
culture of constantly evaluating what
we do and determining how we could
do it better.
A revolution was taking place in the
funding and status of maintained
schools. Academy status was made
available. Initially, the focus was on
secondary, but the option was opened
for primary. Few primary schools
expressed interest. A prerequisite
for conversion was to be judged
“outstanding” by Ofsted. Upon
achieving that grade in 2009, we
decided to pursue academy status.
We needed the confidence to go for it
and the courage to see it through. We
had to be ready to contract services
in the open market and not expect
the LA to provide them. In September
2010, we opened as England’s first
Primary Single Academy Trust – that
is, a government-funded school that
is not part of any grouping. We have
subsequently managed major capital
projects. The school now has state-of-
the-art facilities to deliver the broader
curriculum that all children deserve.
We have 630 on roll plus The Nursey
and over 150 applications for 90 places
in this year’s Reception class.
The courage to innovate
Pupils join their new year groups in
June rather than September. This
addresses the “post-SAT” effect of
children, staff and parents thinking
that the end-of-year tests herald the
end of teaching and learning. What
used to be the long “wind-down” to
Set achievable goals
We had to be
ready to
services in the
open market
and not
expect the LA
to provide
the summer holidays has become the
start of the next year’s work.
We also reorganised the holiday
pattern. We now have more, but
shorter, terms. This helps avoid the
“flagging” effect of the four-month-
long autumn term, which sees pupil
and staff absence rise at the end of
the term. The added advantage is that
parents are able to take their children
away at off-peak prices.
We were vilified in the local press
when we introduced a policy of all
members of the school community
being addressed by their forenames.
Visitors are still surprised to hear a
five-year-old call me Warren. The
press anticipated this would lead
inexorably to a total loss of respect and
the breakdown of order. Needless to
say, it didn’t. We have had only one
permanent exclusion in 16 years. In
November 2018, Ofsted judged us to
be “outstanding.” And, yes, when the
inspectors are on site, we expect them
to comply with our first-name protocol.
They are invariably happy to do so.
Central control as a stifling
My concern for the future is that,
despite successive governments’
promise of freedoms, ministers are
unable to loosen their central control.
Our single type of academy is now
increasingly rare. Schools are placed
into multi-academy trusts, which
usually have an off-site CEO and follow
common policies. This can be viewed
as the replacement of LA control by
sponsor control without democratic
accountability. Gradgrind, in Dickens’
Hard Times
, was a rich philanthropist
who paid for a school – as long as
it taught a curriculum based on his
personal view of the world.
Recently, we received from the
Department for Education data which
compared our areas of expenditure
with schools of a similar size and social
composition. The purpose seems to
be to benchmark the lowest areas of
spending by activity. The data showed
each school’s funding allocations
across staffing, clerical and admin,
premises, and energy, among other
things. No performance data was
included, so data was provided for
input costs but no outcomes.
The accompanying advice suggested
a tentative correlation between inputs
and pupil outcomes in only one area:
spending on teaching staff. Yet, in
each area where spending is higher
than average, every school is asked
why. Adjusting spending by input
without linking to pupil outcomes is
facile. Spending must be driven by
pupil needs. Data is not an end in
itself – even Gradgrind would have
The one thing all the original
academies wanted was freedom from
the national curriculum. The best
innovation comes from below. Central
control stifles innovation. We remain
committed to self-evaluation. We will
remain bold in making changes and
courageous in seeing them through.
We expect government to keep its
promise to value innovation, but we
are wary politicians will want a new
orthodoxy to prevail: that of the multi-
academy trust.
The one thing
all the original
wanted was
freedom from
the national
Chew things over
Raise the bar

This article was sponsored by The Premier Academy. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development