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Unleashing Greatness and RE

Summary and implications of Unleashing Greatness: Getting the best from an academised system, the report of the Pearson/RSA Academies Commission, January 2013



The commission was established jointly by the RSA and the Pearson Think Tank. It was chaired by Christine Gilbert (former CHMI), with members Professor Chris Husbands (London Institute), Brett Wigdortz (founder, Teach First) and directed by Professor Becky Francis (Kings College London and Pearson Think Tank).

The commission was created to look at the school improvement and curriculum implications of a largely or fully academised system in England. It did not enquire into the politics of the academies programme and did not revisit the policy decisions behind it: the commission strongly supported the aspirational vision that lies behind the academies programme, and particularly emphasised the importance of autonomy-driven improvement, outstanding leadership and governance in overcoming entrenched failure in schools.

Culham St Gabriel’s contributed to the launch of the commission, and submitted RE-related evidence. We warmly welcome the commission’s report and intend to work with partners in and beyond the RE world to respond to it. We believe it has four major implications for the ways in which RE advisers, consultants and CPD providers will work with academies and free schools from now on. The implications are identified at the foot of this report, and will be developed in further CSTG thinking in the near future.

To find video of the launch and the text of the report, please visit http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2013/unleashing-greatness


Assumptions in the report

The commission recognised three imperatives for the further development of the academies programme:

–        A forensic focus on teaching and its impact on pupils’ learning

–        Fair and equal access to children from all backgrounds

–        Greater accountability to pupils, parents and other stakeholders

The commission came to see that a key factor in good teaching and learning is the networks of academies and the synergy of professional development opportunities thus created:

‘A fully academised system is best seen as a community of schools, each independent but working best if connected to the rest of the system… [there is] a balance to be struck between independence and interdependence,… many of the good and outstanding schools that converted since 2010 have become standalone academies. Not all these ‘converter academies’ are fulfilling their commitment in supporting other schools to improve… To continue [a] school-led improvement drive would require, for example, all converter academies to meet the expectations for collaboration. ’ (pp5-6)

The report takes a long view and argues that the policy drift has been positively towards autonomy for some time:

‘If we have learned anything about change over the past thirty years, it is that improvement is likely to be both accelerated and sustained if there is broad ownership at local, school and community level.’ (p9)



This is a selection of the recommendations, focusing on those that have implications for CPD in RE, and excluding those that address school admissions.

–        ‘More academies should recognise the value of establishing a collaborative culture … which recognises the importance of professional development focused on practice in classrooms and of learning in context, and resource it accordingly.

–        The DfE should invite the National College to trial a number of licensed, school-led excellence networks, in particular regions across the country, designed to develop capacity and ensure support for all schools that need it.

–        The government should articulate the case for innovation and a vision for learning in the twenty-first century.

–        The DfE should pump-prime the establishment of a Royal College of Teachers … to promote teachers’ professional development, provide evidence to inform education policy, align practice and research and promote peer to peer collaboration.

–        Teachers should be expected to engage with research as an integral part of their daily work.

–        Individual academies and groups of academies should embrace a new relationship with local authorities to ensure they all contribute to local planning, review and development.’ (pp10-11)


Implications for RE

Although this report is not government sponsored, it will be highly influential among academy and free school leaders and sponsors, and it self-evidently promotes what has been agreed as good practice in CPD for several years. The implications for RE professional development work include:

–        RE approaches to academies and free schools need to be fluent in the language of school improvement and autonomy. Quality of teaching and pupil learning, rather than coverage of RE content or compliance with requirements, should be the main driver of conversations and the main focus of offers of CPD provision.

–        Academy interdependence should be promoted: CPD relationships such as regional conferences, chain conferences, coaching triads and accredited provision should be interlinked and offered to academies with room for them to add their distinctive ethos.

–        Models of collaboration and leadership should be shared with the NCSL, national Governors’ Association and research communities.

–        The positive emphasis on the importance of the local has leapfrogged the SACRE system. New, post-SACRE relationships with local authorities and other local stakeholders – employers, parents, universities – should be piloted and evaluated.

Culham St Gabriel’s looks forward to working with several partners to pursue a positive RE response to Unleashing Greatness.


Mark Chater