- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Mary Wallis-Jones

  The 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA) in effect made governing bodies the main avenue of accountability for schools. With Local Management of Schools governing bodies, which included the headteacher, as well as teachers' reps, local authority representation, elected parents and governors selected by the GB to represent the local community, took control of the entire revenue budget and most of the capital budget of the school. The GB became responsible for planning the budget both on an annual basis and in the long term, so that all the resources available to the school were used to maximum effect to ensure progression for all the pupils, whatever their needs and abilities.

This meant that governing bodies were responsible for deciding how many people should be employed in the school, what their responsibilities should be and what they should be paid. Most importantly, they had responsibility for appointing the headteacher, and in doing so, for determining how they would work with the Head in planning the use of resources to deliver the curriculum effectively to all the pupils. The knowledge and skills of governing bodies and Headteachers in strategic planning and financial management obviously varied between schools according to the individuals involved. This meant that the practical arrangements for the extent to which issues were:—discussed and agreed in the whole governing body, or by its committees or Chair, or the head's recommendations accepted without discussion, varied between schools. However, there is research evidence that the most successful schools had "effective" governing bodies where there was an collaborative partnership between the Head and the Governing Body. Failing schools have tended to be those with weak management and weak and ineffective GBs which have rubber stamped the head's decisions, not involved themselves in trying to understand why achievement or behaviour was not good, and have therefore failed in their "critical friend" role and not held the headteacher to account.

  The role of the governing body in accountability was well recognised in the first Ofsted Framework. (Sections 6.1 and 6.3.) The Governing Body of all maintained schools was seen as the "responsible authority" and as such the body which facilitated the inspection arrangements and to which Ofsted reported. It was then the governing body which was responsible for the post Ofsted Action Plan.

  Successive Ofsted Inspection Frameworks have reduced the responsibilities of the Governing body and the role of governors in the inspection process. It is now the head who arranges everything and the short notice given for inspection has been given by Ofsted as the rationale for not involving the GB in the process. With the current framework we understand that it is unlikely for the inspectors to talk to more than one governor, ideally the Chair, but that this can consist of a telephone conversation, and might not happen at all. Governors' organisations think this is highly unsatisfactory, especially since the governing body is a corporate entity and individual governors may not act on their own. All views and decisions need to be ratified by the full GB, even if this is in retrospect.

Accountability for what?

  A major plank of the ERA was the introduction of the National Curriculum (NC) and National Curriculum Assessment (NCA). The National Curriculum established an entitlement for all children between the ages of 5 and 16 to a broad and balanced curriculum wherever they lived and whatever their socio-economic background, ethnicity, first language, faith, Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disability. NCA was designed to check at the ages of 7, 11, 14, and 16 that all children in England and Wales were getting their entitlement. This had not previously been possible because there was no common view of what should be taught or how. There were probably very wide differences between schools and between parts of the country. This meant that there was no way to get any kind of measure of the "standards" of education being delivered, at least in primary schools, since their pupils took no national/pubic assessments or tests. Since there was no common curriculum for each year group, any national assessment of standards, such as the sampling method used by the APU could not relate to specific knowledge or factual information.

Throughout the 20th century, educational research showed that the main determinant of educational achievement in England was the socio-economic circumstances of the child's parents. Attempts by successive governments since the 1944 Education Act to ameliorate this effect on attainment have had little or no effect. It follows that differences between schools were largely determined by the socio-economic background of their intake. They had very little to do with the quality of teaching and learning in the school, or even the resources available to the school or the effectiveness of its management. However, research showed that the best schools could make up to a 10% difference in the average achievement of pupils in the school and that "good schools" benefited all their pupils, whatever their "abilities" and whatever their background.

  In 1991 the Conservative Party published "The Parents' Charter". This was effectively their Education Manifesto for the 1992 General Election. This asserted that the then new Key Stage 1 National Curriculum Assessments for a school should be used by parents to ascertain which were the "best" primary schools in their choice of school for their children. Of course, since the above was the case, what these results largely indicated was which were the predominantly "middle class" schools. Hence the popularity of league tables.

  NCA was designed to have a number of discreet purposes. Within the school it helped teachers know what each child knew and could do, so that they could plan their future learning and ensure that each child made progress, whatever level they were working at. For parents it could be used as tangible evidence that their child was progressing. Average progression, controlling for individual pupil characteristics (ie Value Added) in the school could be used by local authorities and Government to assess how well schools were doing for their pupils.

  However, in 1993 teachers boycotted the KS1 assessments, so they largely did not take place, and no data was published. The main teachers' complaint was that the assessments took too long, especially the practical tasks in Science, and were therefore not manageable in the classroom. This led to the Dearing Review and a narrowing of the assessments made to "paper and pencil" tests which all pupils in the class could do at the same time.

  The rest as they say is history. Year by year the tests became narrower, the curriculum became ever more restricted to those things which were tested, and eventually KS1 tests were abandoned and then last year KS3 SATs as well. There has been some attempt to broaden the curriculum with compulsory sport, music and cooking, but the straightjacket of the core remains.

Future School Accountability—Why not put the Governing Body back at the centre?

  Since 1997 the role and responsibilities of the Governing Body have been considerably reduced as their representativness of relevant stakeholders has diminished. Their control of strategic budget planning has been undermined by such moves as performance management of teachers, which gave teachers massive pay increases as of right if their headteacher considered them eligible. (NB Since pay in the school is likely to account for around 85% of the revenue budget, lack of control of large pay increases has dramatically reduced GBs ability to plan strategically for changes in the staffing structure and planned maintenance of the building.) There have also been numerous Government initiatives which have provided extra money to some schools for short term programmes, eg Behaviour Improvement Programme (BIP), making long term budget planning more difficult.

However, CASE believes that true local democratic accountability of schools can best be achieved through the work of a stakeholder governing body, where each stakeholder has an equal voice, and there is a balance between those groups on the GB which have a sectional short term interest in the school (the producers and consumers), and those who have a wider and long term view (the Local Authority and the local community,). Governing bodies should be large enough to include governors of varying lengths of experience in each stakeholder group, so that experience of what works and what does not work can be passed on to newer governors. Larger GBs (eg at least four in each stakeholder group) can control their own training and succession planning so that they are: a) not bereft when a long term Chair leaves, and b) are not persuaded by their lack of experience or capacity to rubber stamp everything the headteacher says.

  Lack of such a stakeholder governing body is one of CASE's major objections to Academies, where the sponsor selects the majority of the governors, and to Trust schools where the Trust appoints the majority of the governors. These schools in our view have no form of local democratic accountability, which as state funded schools, they should have.

  As expressed elsewhere, we believe the current National Curriculum Assessment system, and the Ofsted inspection system, which hinges its judgements of schools on the very narrow NCA results and school comparisons based solely on these, are both totally inadequate as a basis for school accountability. Judgements of schools need to be much broader and need to be made and communicated by all the stakeholders in the school. We suggest the reintroduction of something like the Governors Annual Report to Parents, abolished in the 2006 Education and Inspections Act. Abolition was possible because governors, Headteachers and parents had ceased to take it seriously, because it had become formulaic, short and lacking in any new information. A new style Report, compiled by governors on the basis of their knowledge of the school (not just Headteacher reports) could include a report on pupil progression in the last year, using NCA results as well as wider information, report on behaviour and attendance, (progress or not) SEN including not just what arrangements are made in the school but the number of children progressing from School Action Plus to School Action or whatever, curriculum innovations and their success/popularity, and progress on the five "Every Child Matters" outcomes.

  Such a Governors Annual Report could also be addressed to the Local Authority as a basis for discussion with LA Inspectors/SIPs and LA support for school improvement. Involving LA personnel in a revived Annual Parents Meeting, together with more meaty content might attract more interest than is the past experience of most schools. And why not invite the public in too to visit the school and hear what it is doing?

  MWJ was a local authority governor of various schools in LB Camden from 1974-2006, and a member of the Executive of the National Governors' Council from 1999-2004, during which time she represented school governors to government on various subjects, in particular Attendance and Behaviour and School Finance. The PhD was awarded in 2003 for a thesis entitled: "Education Research and Policy: a case study of Primary School Effectiveness post Plowden", which investigated the relationship between education policy and practice, and showed how research findings rarely if ever really affected policy development.

26 February 2009

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