MPs report on the role of regional schools commissioners

20/01/2016

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of NGA, welcomes today's Education Select Committee report on the role of regional schools commissioners (RSCs).

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Emma Knights said: "The National Governors' Association strongly supports many of the committee's recommendations: in particular we are pleased about the need for further clarity of roles, more transparency, and the suggestion that Headteacher Boards are renamed as Advisory Boards. We are however disappointed that the Committee was unconvinced by the need for increased capacity within the RSCs' offices. Regional School Commissioners are playing an increasingly significant role in the school system and need to have teams which enable them to do this well, in a timely fashion, and with local knowledge."

You can read the report in full on the Parliament website.

RSCs were introduced in September 2014 and given responsibility for intervening in underperforming academies and building capacity in the academy system. The education and adoption bill proposes further powers of intervention in underperforming or ‘coasting’ maintained schools which the government intends to delegate to RSCs. 

You can read NGA's written evidence, submitted at the start of the inquiry in September, on the Parliament website. NGA Chief Executive Emma Knights also gave oral evidence to the inquiry and a transcript of the session, as well as evidence submitted by others, is available here.

Clarity around roles

One of the report’s prominent themes is the lack of clarity and transparency around the role of the RSCs. NGA was among the voices highlighting this in evidence and welcomes the committee’s attention to the issue.

The report finds that the available description of the national Schools Commissioner’s (NSC’s) role is “nebulous and does not make clear what is required from the position”. The post has been occupied by Frank Green since its inception but will be taken over by current RSC for the South West Sir David Carter from February. The committee suggest that the role should be utilised to ensure that RSCs are consistent in their approach and the standards that they apply to schools. They state an expectation that a hearing will be held with the new NSC at an early stage in his tenure.

In an interview with the Today Programme this morning, Sir David Carter was asked whether parents could make a complaint about a school to the RSC in their region. Although he responded that parents can raise issues with their RSC, it is worth emphasising that RSCs do not have a formal role in complaints. There is currently a lack of clarity about who parents with academies should approach and NGA would like to see the government providing additional guidance on this issue.

The committee is calling on the government to require each RSC to publish the vision, workplan, and priorities for their region and seek input and buy-in from all relevant stakeholders. They also recommend that the DfE publish a decision-making framework which would apply to all RSCs to aid consistency of approach and transparency about how decisions have been made. These would be significant steps towards achieving a more transparent system.  

In addition, the committee recommend that the government clarify the division of responsibilities between RSCs, local authorities, and Ofsted in a way that is comprehensible to schools and parents. NGA welcomes this recommendation and has been increasingly concerned that there are no clear dividing lines between which agencies are responsible for each type of school and in what circumstance. The lines of accountability will be further complicated when the education and adoption bill comes into effect. 

Design of the regions

The committee is recommending that the regions in which RSCs operate are redesigned to match the Ofsted regions, which are based on previous government regions. This would include creating a new RSC for London.

Currently, responsibility for academies in London is split between three RSCS, the rationale being that this will enable expertise from the capital to be shared with struggling schools elsewhere. This was criticised by many witnesses, including the Greater London Authority, as being ineffective and failing to take advance of existing school improvement structures in the city.

The reconfiguration of the regions would be a positive step and improve the way RSCs work with other agencies, particularly Ofsted.

The report also suggests that the regions should be kept under review as the RSCs’ remit expands and in light of other developments such as potential devolution of some powers to Greater Manchester. 

Capacity of the system

NGA was among many witnesses who raised concerns over the capacity of RSCs to effectively discharge their responsibilities given the increasing number of academies and their growing remit. The report addresses this concern but suggests that the solution would be to increase emphasis on working with partners, such as teaching schools, to secure school improvement. Instead of increasing investment in the offices of the RSCs themselves, the report suggests that attention should be given to building the capacity of these partners.  

While NGA agrees that ensuring capacity of school improvement partners is vital, it does believe that this should be accompanied by increased investment in RSCs' offices. The responsibilities devolved to RSCs are significant and different in nature from specific activities to improve teaching and learning. The role cannot be carried out effectively without a high quality, well resourced team who provide them with local knowledge and relevant expertise; this is necessary to avoid over-reliance on the RSC as an individual.

Headteacher Boards

The Committee recommend that Headteacher Boards should be renamed as RSC Advisory Boards. This, they argue, would make it clear that their function is to provide advice to inform RSC decisions and that their membership is not restricted to headteachers. Additionally, RSCs should develop an explicit skills profile when recruiting individuals to the Board and, if RSCs’ remit expands in the way proposed in the Education and Adoption Bill, headteachers of maintained schools should be eligible for election.

In evidence to the inquiry, NGA called for Headteacher Boards to be renamed and that all should contain a number of individuals with expertise in governance, including understanding of effective governance in a multi-academy trust – other than as a headteacher. NGA is pleased to see the committee agreeing that the current name is not fit for purpose and suggests that a skills matrix for RSCs’ advisory boards should be developed to aid this recommendation’s implementation.

How to measure the RSCs' impact

The report recommends that “the impact of RSCs should be considered in terms of improvement in young people’s education and outcomes, rather than merely the volume of structural changes introduced or other levels of activity”, mirroring the methods for measuring the effectiveness of local authorities. NGA welcomes the suggested shift away from emphasis on school structures as these do not automatically imply improvement in educational standards.

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