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Minister vows to drive up standards in struggling West Midlands schools during Black Country visit

The Education Minister says the "resilience" offered by strong performing multi-academy trusts will help drive up standards in struggling West Midlands schools.

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Baroness Barran

Baroness Barran visited Oldbury Academy on Pound Lane where she spoke with staff and pupils about improvements at the school since it became an academy.

The school joined Stour Vale Academy Trust in September 2021 and was rated 'Good' in its most recent inspection having previously been judged 'requires improvement'.

Sandwell, meanwhile, is one of 24 Priority Education Investment Areas lined up for millions in government funding aimed at driving up standards in under-performing schools.

Baroness Barran said successful multi-academy trusts had a key role to play in the programme. She told the Star: "We are bringing a real focus and additional investment and money to the area.

"The Department [for Education] will always support schools where it is required and we are very clear that quality really matters.

"What we have found is that there is a certain resilience that comes from being in family of schools under a strong trust.

"This isn't about academisation for its own sake. It's about the resilience that it brings the leadership and staff in the school which then allows them to do a fantastic job for the kids."

Baroness Barran described Oldbury Academy as a "great example" of a school which had tasted success with the academy system, saying that under Stour Vale it had kept its own identity while working with other schools in the trust to "raise aspirations".

Baroness Barran with headteacher Phil Shackleton and pupils at Oldbury Academy

She said the best multi-academy trusts had been "real innovators" in how they have delivered education and developed their staff. They were key to the "self-improving system" the Government wanted to create, she said, "where if you are doing a great job you get more opportunity and the regulation is proportionate to the success and effectiveness of your work".

"I don't think we want to end up in a world where the Department is too directive," she said. "There is incredible expertise on the ground in our teachers and our trust leaders.

"We need to leave them the space to work. Our role is in making sure we support the sector to deliver. In any local authority, there is always a big gap between the best performing schools and trusts and the weakest ones.

"Our challenge is how to we keep the top schools improving while also scooping up the lower quartile schools."

Phil Shackleton, headteacher at Oldbury Academy for the last seven years, said making children feel valued by brining in a "new ethos" had been a key part of the school's improvement journey.

"As part of that we have put new systems in place to improve teaching and learning, assessment, and curriculum," he said.

"Collaborating with more schools in the trust and being able to share resources has undoubtedly helped.

"We got support in the areas where we needed it and equally we could share our expertise in areas such as how we work with families. It became a two-way partnership."

The changes included a focus on rewarding positive behaviour and bringing in new systems enabling early intervention for children in danger of falling behind.

The school – which is in one of the most deprived parts of the country – has also prioritised improvements in literacy levels, Mr Shackleton said.

"We feel it has helped to raise aspirations for all of our children," he added. "We want them to see beyond our school and how they can open up the doors to go to college and hopefully university or onto an apprenticeship.

"At the start of our journey we found a lot of children didn't really have a focus in what they wanted to do – or what they were capable of achieving.

"We've spent years changing this mentality so people can see they are capable of far more than they perhaps thought. As we raised expectations, standards began to improve off the back of it."

Rachel Salter, CEO of Halesowen-based Stour Vale Academy Trust, said two schools were in the formal process of joining the eight already on board.

"We intend to grow and increase our capacity," she said. "But as we grow we are committed to maintaining our values to ensure all our schools continue to improve."