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Academies commissioner will oversee schools that educate 10,000s of our children

PUBLISHED: 06:31 07 August 2014

Most Norfolk children will attend an academy at some point during their school life. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Most Norfolk children will attend an academy at some point during their school life. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

He may be the most important figure in education in our region for the next five years, with powers over schools which educate nearly two-thirds of Norfolk secondary school pupils.

Yet Tim Coulson was little known in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire when the Department for Education appointed him as the civil servant who will oversee academies in our area.

Since taking up the post as the first regional schools commissioner for North East London and the East of England last month, Dr Coulson has visited academies across the patch to familiarise himself with local issues.

His role is a major one, as most Norfolk children will attend an academy during their school years.

By the end of the autumn term, more than 30,000 secondary school pupils in Norfolk will be studying at one, as well as 9,000 primary school pupils.

However, Dr Coulson said he also aimed to become a player across the wider education landscape, working with councils, dioceses and others to improve standards.

The structure of eight commissioners across England, under national commissioner Frank Green, was created to address concerns about the accountability of thousands of academies which, having moved out of the local authority realm, became directly answerable to Whitehall.

Dr Coulson, a former headteacher in Islington and, until last month, director of education at Essex County Council, said he has four main areas of responsibility:

• intervening in under-performing academies;

• approving applications for school to become academies;

• ensuring there are enough high-quality academy sponsors;

• approving major changes to existing academies.

The first role could see him make significant changes to academies with poor Ofsted reports or exam results, such as removing governing bodies, forcing schools to join an academy chain, or changing their sponsor.

The second will see him step into the world of non-academies, and some of the most controversial local decisions in education – the fate of non-academies that run into difficulty.

The third role will see him encourage top-performing schools and other organisations to become academy sponsors and bring others schools under their umbrella.

The fourth could see him decide issues such as whether an academy opens a sixth form.

Dr Coulson will be advised and held to account by a head teachers board, which includes four principals of top-rated academies, elected by headteachers of all academies in the region.

A total of 18 heads stood, including three from Norfolk, three from Suffolk and two from Cambridgeshire. Of the four elected, three were from Essex and one from Cambridgeshire.

But Dr Coulson said Norfolk and Suffolk would not be disadvantaged by a lack of representation, because one of the first priorities of the board would be “a couple of other appointments that the criteria will be a good working knowledge of Norfolk and Suffolk”.

The post is paid up to £140,000, and the National Union of Teachers has called the new system a “confusing, expensive and bureaucratic

arrangement of school accountability”.

It may not take long to see how Dr Coulson uses his powers, with this month’s exam results set to shine the spotlight on any under-performing academies.

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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