- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Vernon Coaker MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families

  Thank you for the interesting discussion at the recent CSF Committee evidence session on School Accountability on 8 July 2009. I undertook to write to you about the Schools Commissioner role and Jon Coles promised that we would send additional information on School Improvement Partners. Following concerns expressed by some Committee members in the discussion on the School Report Card, I also wanted to clarify Ofsted's position.


  I should clarify that there is no mention of the Schools Commissioner in legislation—primary or secondary legislation. Of course during the passage of what became the Education and Inspections Act 2006 there was discussion of Local Authorities role as commissioners of services and in that context the role of the Schools Commissioner arose but that debate did not translate into any legislative provisions. As you know Sir Bruce Liddington was appointed in the Autumn of 2006 as a Director in the Department fulfilling the role of the Schools Commissioner. This role has always been a standard civil service appointment, subject to the normal appointment rules of the civil service. Civil servants and expert consultants were recruited to the Office of the Schools Commissioner (OSC)—supporting Sir Bruce in his role—over the following year or so, and there continue to be some 19 civil servants working in this area. As Ed Balls said to you in a reply to a Parliamentary Question on 9 March "Sir Bruce Liddington did an excellent job supporting the commissioning of new schools places, expanding our academies programme and developing National Challenge Trusts". And as you also know Sir Bruce left the Department at the end of last year to take up an important role in the system.

As Jon Coles said in evidence, the Department will, subject to budgetary constraints, advertise for a new Director in Schools Directorate, though he will be reconfiguring to some extent the responsibilities of senior civil servants in the Directorate. There will of course continue to be a Director within Schools Directorate with responsibility for the work of the Office of the Schools Commissioner, as there is now, but alongside a range of other responsibilities. This reflects the fact that following the success of Sir Bruce, we can now move into a different phase of work—looking to secure effective implementation alongside embedding commissioning at LA level.


  The School Improvement Partners (SIPs) programme was introduced alongside a number of other policies together known as the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS) in 2005 after a trial in 2004. SIPs were first deployed to secondary schools in a phased roll out during 2005-06. At the same time, a pilot project for SIPs in primary schools was carried out, as well as a trial of SIPs in special schools. As a result of a successful pilot and trial, SIPs were rolled out in primary schools from January 2007 and in special schools from September 2007. There have been SIPs in all maintained schools since April 2008. Since its launch, the SIP programme has been independently evaluated as follows:

    — 2004 NFER evaluation of the NRwS trial.

    — 2006 Cambridge University evaluation of the special SIP pilot.

    — 2006 York Consulting Ltd Evaluation of the primary pilot.

    — 2008 York Consulting Ltd Evaluation of the NRwS.

  A copy of the most recent report (2008 York Consulting Ltd Evaluation of the NRwS) is attached to this letter.[16]


  During discussion on the School Report Card, concerns were expressed that Ofsted's independence was compromised by it working together with the DCSF.

As with other public service inspectorates, the functions of the Chief Inspector are clearly defined in law. Ofsted is a non-Ministerial Government Department, accountable directly to Parliament. The law also places the Chief Inspector under a duty to provide advice to the Secretary of State, and establishes a power to provide advice when the Chief Inspector considers it appropriate to do so. The Chief Inspector can and does publish her advice, in the form of reports and publications, some of which are critical of government policy.

  Ofsted's knowledge of the schools system is an essential and valuable resource which the Department can and should call upon to inform policy in relation to schools, including the design of the accountability system. The Department has benefited greatly from Ofsted's advice throughout the work to date developing the School Report Card, leading up to both the initial, joint consultation on the School Report Card in December 2008; and the recent joint School Report Card Prospectus. Such joint working is not a new departure. For example, in 2004, the Department and Ofsted consulted jointly on the NRwS reforms. Inspection was a key part of the NRwS and Ofsted worked with the Department to develop a coherent set of proposals which were jointly presented. As the Committee identified, it will be important that we establish the right relationship between Ofsted inspection and the School Report Card, so that there is coherence between the different elements of the accountability system. Both the Department and Ofsted have therefore taken the view that it will be of greatest benefit to parents and to schools that we develop our proposals for the School Report Card with similar engagement. Indeed, the two organisations would be open to criticism if they did not properly work together to ensure that there is a coherent and consistent accountability system for schools. Both the Department and Ofsted are clear that this in no way compromises Ofsted's independence, and places no barrier on Ofsted criticising government policy, where it considers it necessary to do so.

August 2009

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