Category Archives: school governance


Partnership grows out of partnership

And Partnerships  are improving outcomes in Lincolnshire

CfBT Education Trust has just published a research report  ‘Partnership working in small rural primary schools’ .

Robert Hill and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) were commissioned  to investigate the most effective ways for small rural primary schools to work together in order to improve provision and raise standards. The project sought to examine the circumstances and context of small rural schools in Lincolnshire and evaluate their different leadership models (such as collaborations, federations, partnerships or academy chains) to:

identify successful approaches to collaboration likely to have a positive impact on pupil achievement

identify barriers to successful collaborative models

understand the role of the local authority in enabling effective partnership

place the Lincolnshire approach in the context of approaches being adopted in other areas in England and best practice in partnership as identified in research literature

identify issues and recommendations for policymakers to consider.

The report provides three sets of ten lessons for schools, policymakers and local authorities.

As well as the main report of findings there is a secondary report composed of supporting materials which is also available to download.

Although the researchers looked specifically at partnerships involving small schools, which have their own distinctive challenges ,some of the lessons learnt will be of interest  and utility to secondary schools.  The authors do not think that academisation and the establishment of teaching schools will , by themselves, address the problems and challenges facing small primary schools. There are 4,000 schools in England with fewer than 150 pupils and 1,400 with fewer than 75.

CFBT Education Trust provides school improvement support in Lincolnshire  and the report states ‘Lincolnshire provides a test-bed for how far it is possible to foster partnership working, address previous obstacles and build a school-to-school improvement model for small rural  schools’

 Ten Lessons for schools:  

Build on existing partnerships and relationships

Keep local partnerships geographically focused

Ensure that head teachers leading a collaboration develop strong relationships, shared values and commitment to each other

Be clear about governance, funding and accountability

Involve middle leaders in the leadership of partnerships

Use business plans and action plans to prioritise what partnerships will do together

Use action plans to prioritise and clarify what partnerships will do together.

Focus partnership activity on improving teaching and learning through teacher-to-teacher and pupil-to-pupil engagement and learning – including the use of digital contact between staff and pupils.

Focus any dedicated resources on providing dedicated leadership or project management time to organise activity and/or cover transport costs.

Be prepared to engage in multi-partnership activity and for the form and membership of partnerships to evolve over time.

Monitor and evaluate the impact of partnership activity


Ten lessons for local authorities:

 Provide a clear vision of the future in terms of school-to-school working.

Be flexible about the structural arrangements for partnerships but encourage a direction of travel   that moves to more structured arrangements – and formalise the arrangement, whatever form it takes.

 Expand the use of executive headship, using soft influence and hard levers (for example, intervening when schools are failing or struggling to recruit a new headteacher) to reinforce the growth of local clusters and the recruitment and retention of high quality school leaders.

Insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success – which they track and monitor

Focus any allocation of ring-fenced resources on providing some dedicated leadership or (start up) project management time to coordinate partnership activity and/or cover transport costs.

Reinforce a partnership strategy by the way that other policies on areas such as children’s services and place planning are framed and implemented.

Use simple practical initiatives to help foster partnership depth – such as time at headteachers’  briefings for cluster heads to work together, appointing the same professional link adviser to all the  schools in a partnership and enabling partnerships to jointly procure CPD.

Identify headteachers to champion the strategy, build ownership among their peers and provide a guiding coalition for change.

Support networking and communication between schools and partnerships through newsletters,  micro-websites and conferences.

Stick with the initiative – recognising that elements of the programme will evolve and that the full benefit will take time to come through.

Ten lessons for policymakers:

Set a clear, consistent vision and strategy for primary schools – and small primary schools in particular – to work together in small clusters but without being prescriptive on the form it should take.

Recognise in the way that policies are developed that schools are likely to engage in partnership with other schools on a number of different levels.

Affirm the role of local authorities in steering and enabling clusters to develop and grow.

Work with faith bodies to encourage and facilitate cross-church/community school partnerships.

Aim to develop 3,000–4,000 executive leaders of primary schools and provide a career path and training and development to match this ambition.

Encourage governors to work and train together across clusters, and encourage moves towards exercising governance at cluster level through federations, trusts and multi-academy trusts.

Reinforce the strategy of cluster working by enabling school forums to allocate lump sums to clusters as well as to individual schools.

Communicate the value of partnership working to parents and the wider world in order to provide more support for the efforts of small schools in developing partnerships.

Ensure that the accountability regime balances the competitive pressures among schools to recruit pupils with measures that value partnership working.

Evaluate the impact of partnership working at national level and provide tools to help schools assess the impact of partnership initiatives.

 There is a spectrum of partnership models in evidence. This ranges from loose, informal collaboration between schools, through informal collaboration underpinned by a memorandum of understanding , to more  formal collaboration, for example, including  a management agreement with an executive head, and on to a Federation or multi-  academy trust with  executive head teacher  and single governing body.

 Of the 99 small schools in Lincolnshire just 7 are in no form of collaborative arrangement.

As far as outcomes are concerned, the report says ‘Identifying the impact of Lincolnshire’s partnership programme is both difficult and easy. It is relatively easy to establish whether there has been progress and improvement but much more difficult to be sure about the causes for that improvement. There are three useful sources of evidence that deal with the first issue – whether there has been improvement.’

‘In 2009 the performance of pupils in small schools was significantly below that of their  peers in larger schools and was lagging behind the national performance.(As   measured by the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and mathematics (and, for  2013, in reading, writing and mathematics). However,  in  2012 pupils in the  smallest schools were matching the national benchmark and also the achievement of the largest  schools in Lincolnshire. In 2013 results indicate that small schools were just above both the national performance level and the average for other groups of Lincolnshire schools – apart from those with  181 to 270 pupils.’

Second, the number of small primary schools with fewer than 90 pupils falling below the government’s  floor target for primary schools fell from over 20 to single figures in 2012 and to just one in 2013. This is despite the threshold for the floor target having been raised twice during this period.

Third, the Ofsted inspection outcomes of the smallest primary schools inspected during the school years 2011/12 and 2012/13 show significant improvement. The number of ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’  (respectively Grade 1 and Grade 4) small rural schools in Lincolnshire has remained the same but  there has been a sizeable reduction in the number of ‘satisfactory’/’requiring improvement’ (Grade  3) schools and a corresponding increase in the proportion of ‘good’ (Grade 2) schools. The 65 Lincolnshire schools, taken as a group, have moved from having inspection outcomes that are much  poorer than other primary schools in England to having, on average, better inspection outcomes. ‘

Partnership working in small rural primary schools: the best of both worlds Research report Robert Hill, with Kelly Kettlewell  and Jane Salt-April 2014



Lincolnshire has 21 Special schools, 276 Primary schools and 59 Secondary schools, including 83 Academies. In addition, Lincolnshire remains one of the few areas in the UK to retain Grammar Schools and there are also a range of Primary and Secondary schools provided by the independent sector. CfBT Education Trust  took responsibility for school improvement in Lincolnshire in 2002 and since then the performance of schools and settings has shown sustained improvement year on year.

In 2012, CfBT won the Education Investor award for ‘Best School Improvement Service’ for its work in Lincolnshire.


Too early to say?


The new duty on schools to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance only began in September 2012 . The government believes that  it  important that sufficient time is allowed  for the duty to bed in before any firm conclusions  are drawn about the effectiveness of the new arrangements. Lord Nash recently indicated in the Lords (22 April) that ‘We are evaluating the impact of the new duty in a range of formal and informal ways.’

The Government have also commissioned Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance, which will report this summer.

In addition, according to Lord Nash,  the government is ‘publishing education destination measures to show the percentage of students progressing to further education or training in a school, further education or sixth form college, apprenticeship, employment or higher education institution. The measures provide us with evidence of how effective schools are in supporting pupils to move successfully into the next phase or their education or into sustainable work, including through the provision of independent careers guidance.’

Ministers and officials meet and correspond regularly with a range of stakeholders on issues relating to the delivery of careers provision in schools, says Lord Nash, which is true, but Ministers are not taking on board what stakeholders and the experts are telling them. No independent report from a reputable source on government reforms to careers advice and guidance in schools has endorsed government policy in this area and international evidence suggests that school based advice  is the least effective (see the research from  Professor Tony Watts and OECD). There are grave concerns  too that  only limited access to face to face advice  is being offered to pupils which may have a negative effect on  the social mobility, access, skills and inclusion agendas. Evidence suggests that the most appropriate form of  advice for  disadvantaged pupils is face to face advice from an independent fully qualified  professional.

The government defends its policy by saying that it trusts in school autonomy. Schools themselves must make these decisions. But schools are not as autonomous as the government would have us believe. The government through its individual funding agreements with academies, for example, prescribes what schools have to do in certain areas . And if schools believe that they are autonomous when it comes to the way they use their extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium, then they ought to look  very carefully at recent speeches from the schools minister,  David Laws and  Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted.

Lord Nash  is confident that the government has  detailed enough  evidence ‘relating to the effectiveness of school-based careers guidance to  inform future improvements in the quality of provision,’ while concurrently telling us that there is not yet enough evidence  to gauge  whether the new school- based  service has bedded in. You dont need to be a rocket scientist to work out that schools, under budgetary pressure, will go for, the most part, for  the cheapest option, and that is not face to face advice.

It will be particularly interesting to see what Ofsted has to say in its thematic review. However, there are no plans to make a specific graded judgement on the quality of careers guidance in respect of the school inspection framework and the common inspection framework.



Schools meet the costs of careers guidance from their overall budgets. Information on the amount spent by schools on careers guidance is not collected centrally


Local Authorities and Ministers seem reluctant to use Interim Executive Boards


The   Schools minister, Lord Nash, giving  evidence to the  Education Select Committee, on 20 March, said that local authorities are  reluctant to use  Interim Executive Boards (IEB)  as an intervention to rescue failing schools.  Lord Nash claimed  that 70 local authorities have never issued a warning notice, which is the step towards having an IEB. He  said that local authorities are loth to use their IEB powers. And, he  clearly  thought that IEBs should be used more often .

He said “They do not feel the obligation that, frankly, we feel they should. We are talking about children’s futures. We need to send a message at every turn that we expect all schools to do what good schools do. We all know what those are. I could list them..”

However, this  rather begs the question  why,  given the Ministers concerns about children’s futures , and his  admiration for IEBs ,  the Secretary of State ,who  has the power to impose an IEB, has  chosen to use   them on just   four occasions so far. Ministers are as ‘loth’ , it would seem ,as local authorities are, to go down the IEB route.

Ministers are, in practice, keen that failing schools are placed under the wing of an academy chain to help raise their performance or, alternatively, a strong local school. A decision is made on what route to take  following discussions with the local authority but that rarely means  opting for an IEB.


Where schools are eligible for intervention, local authorities may exercise their powers to: require the governing body to enter into specified arrangements with a view to improving the performance of the school; appoint additional governors; suspend the delegated budget of the school; appoint an Interim Executive Board (IEB).  Where schools are eligible for intervention ,the Secretary of State (ie Michael Gove) has the power to appoint additional governors; appoint an Interim Executive Board, or direct the local authority to close a school The IEB has a duty to conduct the business of the school in such a way as to secure a sound basis for future improvement. It carries out the functions of a governing body of the school for the time that it is in office.IEBs may vary in size but should be a small, focused group with at least two members appointed for the full period which it is expected to return the school to autonomy .

There are two key triggers for a school to come into a category for intervention, one being an Ofsted report, and the other the school’s performance in relation to floor targets. The Ofsted inspection system is risk-based, so the frequency of inspection is linked to the track record of the school


The Academies Act 2010 granted academy trusts exempt charity status, making them exempt from registration with and primary regulation by the Charity Commission, from 1 August 2011.  The definition of an exempt charity is one that is  ‘ not regulated by and cannot register with, the Charity Commission.’  So, they have this status because they are regulated by some other body. The Secretary of State for Education is now the principal regulator of academies and oversees their compliance with both charity and education law. But the education secretary has handed over the role of funding distribution and compliance for academies to the Education Funding Agency, which is an executive agency of the DFE.  The Academy Trust signs an agreement (The Funding Agreement)  with the Secretary of State , and so is accountable to the Secretary of State, not the local authority.Indeed independence from local authority control and bureaucracy has been  regarded as one of the attractions of academy status.

But what happens if an academy, autonomous from the LA,  is under performing or failing? This is an area where local authorities in the past have played an  important role, (some, of course,  more effectual  than others), in spotting early  potential problems.

Elizabeth Truss MP, the junior education minister, made it clear recently in a Commons question that  ‘ it is not the role of local authorities (LAs) to intervene in underperforming academies. Academies are autonomous from LAs and their performance is a matter for the Department through the Office of the Schools Commissioner. If a local authority (LA) has concerns about an individual academy, we expect the LA to raise these concerns with the Academy Trust in first instance. If the LA feels that the Academy Trust is failing to take sufficient action concerns can be raised with Ofsted or the Secretary of State.’

Two  questions then arise-if LAs no longer have the powers or budget to oversee academies, how are they, within an autonomous school system , supposed to spot potential problems with schools? And who, apart from Ofsted, is there to fill this  accountability gap?

The difficulty in giving a straight answer to both these questions explains why the debate continues on whether or not some form of  intermediate tier is required between the SOS and schools, as part of the ‘intelligent’ accountability framework.


Sir Michael  Wilshaw , the Chief Inspector,told the Education Select Committee  on 13 February that local authorities should be able to “identify under performance  in academies “They have a powerful part to play in local authority schools, those schools they control, and those outside their direct control,” Sir Michael said.“They identify under-performance in academies. They should be writing to the chair of governors and the sponsor of that academy and contacting the academy division at the department.”He also said that he wanted Ofsted to inspect academy chains and is in talks with the Secretary of State on this issue.


Christine Gilberts think piece on accountability in a system with autonomous schools

Key is school led accountability in a self-improving system Comment

Research suggests a link between positive outcomes and school autonomy but only if combined with sufficient accountability (OECD, 2010; 2011). Drawing on evidence from 22 evaluations in 11 countries, the World Bank (2011) highlights the importance of the following for better pupil outcomes

: — information to strengthen the ability of students and their parents to hold providers accountable for results — schools’ autonomy to make decisions and control resources — teacher accountability for results

The role of local authorities in the increasingly autonomous landscape is unclear (we have previously looked at arguments over the need for a middle tier-see also Robert Hills report for RSA). Christine Gilbert in  this  new think piece  asks  the key question-  how should the current accountability system evolve to support a more autonomous and self-improving system?

Gilbert says know that, in any system, it is the difference in teachers – most particularly the quality of their teaching and the relationships with their pupils – that makes most difference to children’s learning. Teachers themselves have to be at the centre of a self-improving system. They have to own it and drive it. Recent research (Isos, 2012) also indicates there is no single strategic response from local authorities to a more autonomous system. It is likely that a range of models will begin to emerge with a sharper focus on the local authority as a commissioner, shaping and raising aspirations for learning and education. Gilbert argues that it is time to re-balance the current framework by giving greater emphasis to school-led accountability that is rooted in moral purpose and professionalism.

This will require:

a shift in mind-set and culture so that accountability is professionally owned rather than being seen as externally imposed — a greater emphasis on formative accountability as an essential complement to summative accountability — capturing the benefits more fully of within-school and across-school collaboration, in particular peer review, for challenging and developing the work of teachers and the learning of students — realising the value of governance more effectively within and across schools — new approaches to inspection in support of a self-improving system — exploring the changing role of local authorities as champions for children and commissioners of services for them — using school-led excellence networks to develop capacity and ensure support for all who need it.

The secretary of state has made clear his commitment to a self-improving system and to creating the conditions to enable this to become established. Many school leaders have shown they are willing and able to develop a culture and practice of reflection and enquiry within and beyond their schools that underpins self-improvement. No school has all the answers and the very best schools are eager to do better still. When all schools are challenging each other and using that challenge as a support for better practice, accountability will be seen as a positive and practical tool to raise aspirations and accelerate improvement.

One is reminded of  Andreas Schleicher’s viewpoint. Schleicher, the   chief education adviser  to the OECD, reflecting on his experience of  different education systems,  said ”  Modern education is about enabling professional autonomy within a collaborative culture”


Independent schools and support for state schools

The Government wants the independent sector to support Academies

But the mood music needs changing


A leading think tank hosted a lunch seminar this week on the developing relationship between independent schools and state schools against the backdrop of David Cameron’s  recent very public encouragement for independent schools to support state schools through the academies scheme . Indeed there was a Downing street meeting recently on this very issue. Lord Adonis the architect of the academies scheme has long championed greater support from the independent sector for the academies scheme and used  emotive language to get the point across-referencing the Berlin Wall, apartheid and so on. He even claims that independent schools have a moral obligation to offer such support. Adonis in a 2011 speech said ” Successful private schools ought to be prominent among the sponsors for the next  wave of academies. Everything about academies is in the DNA of the successful  private school: independence, excellence, innovation, social mission. And the benefit  is not only to the wider community, it is also to the private schools themselves,  whose mission is enlarged, whose relative isolation is ended, and whose social  engagement, beyond the families of the better-off, is transformed.”

Given that the seminar operated under Chatham house rules I cannot give the source of the following comments and observations but the seminar attracted some leading heads  from both independent schools and  state schools, including Academies  .

What is clear is that there are divisions in the independent sector over what, if anything, to do to support the state sector. Many schools already have extensive links with neighbouring state schools and around thirty independent schools provide some form of support for an Academy. What has caused resentment is the hectoring tone of politicians telling independent schools and the governors and trustees what to do. It is after all their decision as to how they will deliver public benefit. Support for Academies  is certainly one option but there are a range of others –bursaries, specialist teaching support, access to equipment and facilities, advice on  governance, curriculum advice and support , exam method, summer schools, pupil swaps, community support  etc.     The feeling was that the tone of the debate and perceived hostility from most political quarters towards the independent sector hardly establishes a context within which  a constructive debate can take place, rather it encourages a siege mentality (particularly given the additional antics of the Charity Commission.)   One point rammed home at the meeting was that one of the key reasons for the independent sectors success was its independence, and , specifically, independent governance. So called ‘ autonomous’ and ‘ free schools’ are not actually free in the same way as independent schools are   and are still subject to  significant bureaucratic restrictions , constraints and stipulations in their funding agreements.  However, it was also pointed out that governance was a key area where independent schools really might help  ‘autonomous ‘ state schools-ie how to use their autonomy effectively and what it could mean in practice  so harnessing  the aspirational ethos of the independent sector . There could also be more exchanges between governing boards, so independents have state school Heads on  their governing bodies and vice-versa.

But it was also clear that most independent schools are keen to have greater meaningful contact  with state schools and there can be demonstrable shared benefits  from such contacts. Every independent school that has an arrangement with an Academy agreed that this relationship brought mutual benefits. And state schools can offer expertise and know- how in particular areas-not least in adapting to big resource challenges, encouraging leadership at every level-adding value and getting the best out of challenging pupils and so on. Indeed, one independent Head said that much of the really innovative thinking going on was happening in the state sector, suggesting perhaps, some complacency in the independent sector

There seemed to be agreement that the real problem with our education system is not the fact that a relatively small percentage of pupils are educated privately but in the long tail of significant underachievers in the state sector, ie  the bottom 20-25% cohort. They are the big challenge and  a drag on the system and there seems to be an assumption that Academies are the answer to addressing this problem, although evidence is not yet clear on this.

It was also remarked that rather too much is expected of the independent sector based on wrong assumptions. It educates just 7% of the school population and most schools operate on tight margins, with small surpluses. Large endowments are limited to a few.  So the idea of supporting an academy just on practical grounds with limited resources  is daunting and hard to sell to fee paying parents.  There was a suggestion that those organisations responsible for representing the sector ISC,HMC etc  might  provide centralised support  to schools wanting to get involved with Academies but it is clear that thinking in this area is undeveloped and these organisations  have ,as yet, shown no indication that they would want to get involved. (joint approaches and action from these bodies is rare).

It was agreed ,though, that the aim for any academy engagement must be for it to be cash neutral. You cant ask hard pressed fee paying  parents to fork out additional money  to support engagement with the state sector, whatever its perceived merits. Raise funds separately so  that  the support operation is ring- fenced.  And ,of course, don’t rule out pro-bono support because, it was agreed, some of the simplest most straightforward advice can pay the biggest dividends in return.

My view is that most independent schools want to knock down perceived barriers between the sectors and agree that there are mutual benefits at stake but this is a view that is not always reciprocated in the state sector. Support for Academies is certainly one  mutually rewarding  route and maximises public benefit in a way that bursaries clearly don’t. (indeed by removing the brightest from a state school you can damage that school) But Academy engagement carries some risks, reputational and otherwise, and is by no means the only way that schools can fulfil their public benefit requirement. Academy engagement will suit some schools but not others. If the government seriously wants more independent schools involved it should help them  more in practical ways, for example by providing a matchmaking service,  rather than  hectoring them claiming that there is a moral imperative involved, which is entirely counter-productive and  just bad politics.



Report focuses on importance of  system leaders for a self- improving school system


Recent research by the NCSL studied system leadership development and school-to-school support, particularly the leadership skills required for these roles and the level of interest in them. In this report, Educational Consultant Robert Hill comments on some of the key lessons learnt from this research and its relevance to the schools white paper agenda. System Leaders are those who work beyond their own school to support others across the system.  Hill finds that improving school to school support starts from a strong base. There is varying understanding of different system leadership roles. School leaders are motivated to undertake system leadership roles by a strong sense of moral purpose. Becoming a professional partner is a good way into system leadership. There are substantial levels of interest in taking on the more demanding system leadership roles.  Experience of being a Headteacher, communication, presentation, interpersonal skills and strategic thinking ability are seen as the most important skills to fulfil system leadership responsibility. Once these Heads take on a broader role they are likely to sustain that commitment and the role of the National College in support of these leaders was said to be valued.  The main factors inhibiting school leaders taking on broader roles are fear that it will detract from their role as Head and a lack of experience.  Hill concludes that given the positive experience of existing system leaders it would make sense to use them to champion the broader system leadership roles and address concerns and reservations. And to ensure development support is available to school leaders to encourage and equip them to take on broader responsibilities including providing opportunities for them to observe   and be mentored by other system leaders. Obstacles include the reluctance of some governors to allow their heads to take on these executive roles and a lack of executive heads positions in their area. The aim is to establish a ‘self- improving school system’ but this requires a critical mass of school leaders who are willing and able to take  system leadership roles



Admissions forums

Campaigners seek to save Admissions Forums


Currently, all local authorities are required to establish an Admission Forum. This is a vehicle for admission authorities and other interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of local admission arrangements, to consider how to deal with difficult local admission issues and to advise admission authorities on how arrangements can be improved.  Their key role is to ensure a fair admission system.   In the White Paper preceding the Education Act 2002 Act the (Labour) Government said that school admission forums had played a valuable role in making sure admission arrangements served the needs of local children and parents and they were made compulsory in the Education Act 2002. The current School Admission Code identifies the role of the School Admissions Forum as– to provide a vehicle for admission authorities and other key interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of local admission arrangements, consider how to deal with difficult admission issues and to advise admission authorities on ways in which their arrangements can be improved. Their main focus is to consider the fairness of arrangements in their local context. Admission authorities of all maintained schools and Academies, when exercising their functions, must have regard to any advice offered by the Forum. The forums bring together school governors, parents, churches and local authorities in a statutory body to monitor admissions in their areas.  Current regulations stipulate that membership is to be no more than 20 with at least one representative of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation and academies and CTCs in the relevant area, representatives of each of the religious bodies involved in any of the local schools, at least one parent and at least one community representative. School representatives must be heads or governors but not local authority governors. The school white paper said that legislation would remove requirements for local authorities to establish an Admissions Forum and provide annual reports to the Schools Adjudicator.   Instead the Government want local authorities to set up arrangements that work best for their area.    The white paper also  said that the Schools Adjudicator will focus on specific complaints about admission arrangements for all schools, including academies and free schools.

The Admissions Code will be simplified to make it easier for schools and parents to understand and act upon, while maintaining fairness as the Code’s guiding principle. So, the abolition of the forums, is envisaged in the Education Bill currently before the Commons- Clause 34(2) Admission Forums. Clause 34 seeks to make a number of changes to the school admission provisions contained in Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.  The requirement on English local authorities to establish an Admission Forum for their area would be removed.  The powers of the School Adjudicator would be restricted by repealing section 88J of the SSFA 1998 so that the School Adjudicator’s remit is limited to direct complaints about an admission policy.  Currently the Schools Adjudicators, upon referral of a specific matter concerning a maintained school’s admission arrangements, is required to consider whether it would be appropriate for changes to be made to any aspect of those admission arrangements in consequence of the matter referred.  They can also consider whether any other changes to the arrangements are appropriate.  The requirement under section 88P of SSFA 1998 for local authorities to provide to the School Adjudicator reports on admissions to schools in their area would be removed.  The power of the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the content of such reports is also removed, and the Explanatory Notes state that instead the School Admissions Code will contain the requirements for reports on school admissions in their area.

The abolition of admission forums will, critics say, reduce direct parental involvement as parent governor representatives are part of the required membership. Importantly parent groups come to the meetings of the forum to make representations. It is regarded as easier in the first instance for parent groups to attend a local forum than to approach the Adjudicator. Additionally if the role of the Adjudicator in changing admission criteria, following what may be a parental complaint is reduced, this too will result in a reduced parental role in the system. The White Paper said that instead of the current provisions local authorities’ role will be to make the process as fair and simple as possible for parents and pupils, setting up local arrangements which work for that area. The White Paper claimed that making changes would ‘end the bureaucratic requirements’ on local authorities.  There is not much evidence either way on the effectiveness of these forums although anecdotal evidence suggests that some are more effective than others. An NFER report in 2010 surveyed LA admission officers on the whole process of admissions, and views on admission forums were mixed but positive comments appeared to outweigh negative ones. Campaigners from ‘Comprehensive Future’ are lobbying MPs to save these forums.  Evidence is strong, they claim, that schools that are their own admission authority do not take the proportion of children on free school meals represented in their communities. That some schools, deliberately or through failing to be aware of the legal requirements in the Admissions Code, have failed to admit children from disadvantaged backgrounds, has been evidenced by research (for example from the Sutton Trust 2006 and listed in Allen, West and Coldron for a DfE Research Report in 2010 ). This makes effective local scrutiny even more important.

Note 1: Clause 60 of the Bill amends Chapter 1 of Part 3 of SSFA 1998 to allow School Adjudicators to consider and to determine eligible objections or referrals relating to the admissions  arrangements of academies, as they do in respect of maintained schools

Note 2

The Government will shortly launch a national consultation so that parents and other interested parties can respond to its proposals to enable a simpler, fairer and more transparent admissions framework.

Rudd.P, Gardiner C and Marson-Smith,H (2010) Local Authority Approaches to the School Admissions Process (LG Group research report) NFER



Important role but rarely appreciated

Government wants to replicate Academy model of governance


Our school system relies heavily on volunteering governors to   enable it to function .If you want to see the ‘Big Society’ at work, maybe  its worth looking at  what  the army of volunteer governors do, day in day out.  The recent White Paper described School governors  as “ the unsung heroes of our education system”. There are some 300,000 school governors, which makes them one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.  A report published by CfBT Education Trust (The ‘hidden givers’: a study of school governing bodies in England, University of Bath 2010)  found that school governors give an enormous amount to the education system in England, though their contribution is largely hidden from public view. It also  found, reinforcing the message that governing bodies role is  vital, that ‘the lack of a capable governing body is not a neutral absence for a school; it is a substantial disadvantage.’  Good governance and leadership at school level is regarded by the Government as a key driver in achieving better educational outcomes. They look to the Academies model to provide examples of smaller, high-powered governing bodies that can  demonstrate rapid improvements in standards. It is interesting though, as the CfBT Education Trust  report found, that  ‘Notions of ‘challenging the headteacher’ and ‘calling the headteacher to  account’ did not match the practices of the governing bodies studied for the report. The  focus, instead,  tended to be on scrutiny – of information, decisions, plans and policies.  Indeed the report found  ‘The governing task was only rarely described in terms of ‘performance’; it was  always talked about in terms of the ‘school’. It  continued ‘The extent to which the governing body focused on the performance of the  school and how performance was considered varied under a range of influences.’

The Government, though, sees the  arrangements for academy governance as a means of improving outcomes ,allowing  for greater levels of flexibility in the number and category of governors than in maintained schools, while ensuring that essential groups, such as parents, are always represented. Which is why it is legislating through the Education Bill, now in the Commons, to allow all governing bodies to mirror the academies model  in requiring  to have at least two elected parent governors and the head teacher, unless the head teacher chooses not to take up his position as a governor. Academy governing bodies have built-in safeguards to prevent particular categories of governor from dominating the governing body; for example, staff governors cannot exceed one third of the total membership, and charity law prevents those connected with local authorities from having more than 20% of the membership of a governing body. The CfBT Education Trust  report  found, in respect of LA representation on governing boards , that  the role of the local authority governor is ‘ unclear and in some ways can be  unsatisfactory’.  It added  ‘There was very little evidence  for instance of the responsibility or the link with  the authority being used in any productive way’.

Evidence points too to the need for Governing bodies to clearly set out the Strategic Direction of schools.  In the White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, the Government  set out a series of 10 key questions for governors to ask to assist them in setting their schools’ strategic direction and holding them to account:

What are the school’s values? Are they reflected in our long term development plans?

How are we going to raise standards for all children, including the most and least able, those with Special Educational Needs, boys and girls, and any who are currently underachieving?

Have we got the right staff and the right development and reward arrangements?

Do we have a sound financial strategy, get good value for money and have robust procurement and financial systems?

Do we keep our buildings and other assets in good condition and are they well used?

How well does the curriculum provide for and stretch all pupils?

How well do we keep parents informed and take account of their views?

Do we keep children safe and meet the statutory health and safety requirements?

How is pupil behaviour? Do we tackle the root causes of poor behaviour?

Do we offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities which engage all pupils?

The WP also  said ‘ Parents, governors and the public will have access to much more information about every school and how it performs’ and  ‘the Government  will help governing bodies to benefit from the skills of their local community in holding schools to account.’ It continued, ‘ The Government will work with  ‘the Education Employer Taskforce, Business in the Community, the Institute for Education Business Excellence, the School Governor’s One Stop Shop, and others to encourage business people and professionals to volunteer as governors.’ The Education Bill, which has just received its Second Reading in the Commons,   allows for the establishment of  smaller governing bodies, with appointments primarily focused on skills. From early 2012 the Government  will ‘ allow all schools to adopt this more flexible model of school governance if they choose to, while ensuring a minimum of two parent governors. Schools which currently have a majority of governors appointed by a foundation (often faith voluntary aided schools) will continue to do so.’



Baker sees  a return of GM-but is it the same?


Mike Baker in a comment piece on the BBC education web site sees the Coalition Governments Academy scheme as a return to  the Tory GM schools initiative that ended in 1998.

Ed Balls has labelled the  Coalitions Academies scheme  as a perversion of the Labour initiative (invoking the GM model)  introduced by Tony Blair  which was targeted almost exclusively at disadvantaged areas. He claims that that fast tracking outstanding schools to Academy status is against the philosophy behind the last Governments Academy scheme and is  in effect shifting the focus  and resources away from the most disadvantaged  .  The central allegation made against GM schools was that they cream skimmed the best pupils, badly affecting neighbouring schools  many of which ended up as sink schools. This is what seems to fuel Ed Balls  opposition to the new Academies scheme.  The irony of course is that Balls himself  has been criticised by many in the Academies  movement of  perverting the  ‘Blairite’  Academy vision, by re-establishing Local authority influence over academies, so  undermining their independence, a crucial element of the Blairite vision, articulated  by Andrew  Adonis.

Academies developed out of previous Conservative Governments’ City Technology Colleges (CTCs) established in the mid-1980s, and city academy programmes. CTCs, which were established under the Education Reform Act 1988 were the first state schools to be free from local authority control. That Act also enabled local authority maintained schools to opt out of local authority control by becoming Grant-Maintained (GM) schools. The Labour Government’s School Standards and Framework Act 1998 overhauled the categories of school and brought GM schools back into the local authority maintained system.  The Learning and Skills Act 2000 made provision for the creation of city academies, subsequently renamed academies under the Education Act 2002. The 2002 Act permitted academies to be set up in any area, not just in urban areas. The first academies opened in 2002, with just over 200 now  up and running.

Initially, it is true  academies were established to replace poorly-performing schools, but subsequently the programme included new schools in areas that needed extra school places and in this  latter period there was  less focus on whether or not an Academy was   being set up  in a demonstrably  disadvantaged area. So,  Balls outrage  and accusations about social engineering  looks, in this context,  somewhat contrived and  overblown.

Baker points out that the political philosophy behind GM schools was to recreate the recipe for success that existed in the private sector – autonomous institutions led by confident and entrepreneurial head teachers. And the stark difference between Labour’s academies and the new version lies in the underlying philosophy according to Baker. The former were about central government intervention to rectify the problems of market failure. (although its hard  to   see how   the schools system at the time could be described   as a ‘market’)  They rescued children who were left in the schools that few parents would choose. By contrast, the new generation of academies are about releasing market forces in the belief that autonomous schools responding to parental choice will raise standards. But the important point about this new initiative the Government argues  is that it  is seeking ultimately to offer  Academy freedoms to all schools. The idea is that it is permissive rather than coercive. No school will be forced to change status but they should all ultimately  be given that opportunity.  But, crucially, they  will not be disadvantaged by not changing their status, and certainly not financially. Indeed the Government has indicated that it doesn’t believe that most Primary schools will take up the autonomy  offer and is easy with that. If the GM initiative could be accused of  not   fully taking  into account the possible impact on neighbouring schools, which some critics argue was the case,  the Government  counters  by   saying that   new academies will be expected to support weaker neighbours, and indeed this is written into the funding agreement .  Before a free school is established there will also be an assessment of its possible impact on neighbouring schools. Academies  will have to comply with the national admissions code, and the pupil premium will give extra aid to schools in deprived areas. Indeed on SEN support the Government argues that changes brought about by the new  Act will ensure that pupils with SEN will be better protected and supported now than they were under the last Governments Academies legislation.

Baker takes particular exception to the perceived lack of parental involvement in decision-making over status change. There is  one important difference between the old GM schools and today’s new academies he says  - the former required majority support in a secret ballot of parents, the latter do not even need a show of hands at a parents’ meeting.  “With GM Mark II, it seems, the parental voice has been forgotten.” However the Government has made it clear that a school wishing to change status must consult with ‘appropriate’  interested parties  and  have explicitly stated that this will include parents. For free schools anyone wishing to establish a free school must demonstrate that there is a demand for such a school in that particular area. Of course one can quibble about the detail of  how this will be done   but  one has to trust school governors and yes parents, often one and the same, to make these kind of judgements and if we really want decision-making from the bottom up rather than the  top down this seems a  good  enough place to start.