National academy chief Sir David Carter: Small schools “play pivotal role”

National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, visits Hethersett Academy. Photo: Keith Whitmore

National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, visits Hethersett Academy. Photo: Keith Whitmore - Credit: Keith Whitmore

He is one of the most powerful figures in the government's academies programme. Martin George meets Sir David Carter.

When chancellor George Osborne announced all schools would be forced to become academies by 2022, a large part of the backlash was came from fears it could mean the closure of many small, rural primary schools.

Ministers last week backed off universal compulsion, but their desire for a full academisation remains, and in some areas all schools will still be forced to convert.

Sir David Carter became national schools commissioner three months ago, a high-profile position that oversees the network of eight regional commissioners who in turn oversee academies, and yesterday he visited Norfolk.

He would not comment on universal academisation during his visit, but was vocal on small schools, a sector the government last week said would have extra protections.

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He said: 'We have to make sure we do everything we can to make sure they are sustainable and viable, because that small rural primary school plays a pivotal role in the village it serves.

'If we take a view that there is a number by which the school is not sustainable then we have a challenge in our rural communities all over England.

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'We should not be on a mission, and nor are we, to close small rural primary schools.'

However, he added that 'the best and most secure' place for them was to be within a wider academy trust.

So are the days of stand-alone academies over?

He said 'there is absolutely a place for a successful, strong, sustainable stand-alone school', and he would not use his position to tell them they had to join a trust, but he was 'always interested' in talking to them about leading a trust.

Yesterday's trip saw him visit the Inspiration Trust, and two of its schools: the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich, and Hethersett Academy, which recently saw its Ofsted rating improve from 'inadequate' to 'outstanding'.

He said Hethersett Academy's success demonstrated what schools can do when they have three key things in place: leadership that is good, leadership that has an impact on teaching, and a strong trust behind it to give it the capacity for further improvement.

He added: 'I think it's an absolute success story for this part of the country and the region.'

He later met heads from across the Inspiration Trust, and said one of the reasons for visiting was to see how others could learn from it.

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