- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association


  1.  For the purposes of this submission, the LGA has focused its responses on the Inquiry's questions as follows:

    — Is it right in principle that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance? — Is the current accountability system of inspection and performance reporting for schools broadly fit for purpose?

    — How should schools be held accountable for their performance in the context of increasing collaboration in education provision?

  2.  In addition to this general document, the LGA submits three other documents[1] that have a bearing on the Inquiry's remit, namely:

    — LGA submission to the Ofsted consultation on the School Inspection Framework from September 2009.

    — LGA submission to the recent Government consultations on 21st Century Schools and the School Report Card.

    — Research commissioned by LGA from National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on the local authority role in school improvement.


Is it right in principle that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance?

  3.   Schools are clearly a core element of universal public services, which stand at the heart of communities. They educate children, increasingly host extended services for children and their families, provide space for community activities in many cases, have close links with local community and faith groups and employers and often provide a neutral venue for public meetings and community discussions among a host of other roles. Schools are very much regarded by parents and the wider community as institutions which work very much at the local level, integral to their everyday lives.

4.  If our primary interest is in the outcomes for these local children and young people, local parents, local community services and local employers, then as the outcomes are about them and for them, so accountabilities must be to them.

5.  With regard to the quality of provision and performance, Ofsted inspects schools based on national datasets and standardised criteria. Local authorities have a remit to monitor schools' performance in their area and where Ofsted indicates there is poor performance or where the local authority is concerned that performance is not what it might be, the school is accountable to the inspectorate and local authority for devising and implementing improvement plans.

  6.  Schools are funded via the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) from central government and this may be topped up by further local authority finance. For financial purposes and value for money, accountability can be traced from the school to local and central government.

  7.  While schools have duties and responsibilities to Ofsted, local and central government to maintain certain standards of provision and to run effectively with the resources they are given, the true accountability for what is actually delivered is to those local people who are in receipt of provision, eg day-to-day teaching and development of children.

  8.  Schools are public institutions funded by public money providing outcomes for the public, so they should be publicly accountable. To that end, it is right that the school governing body along with the headteacher are accountable to the local people that the school serves in the first instance, measured against locally and nationally agreed standards of performance.

  9.  Governing bodies of schools ideally contribute the following:

    — supporting and challenging the headteacher and acting as a critical friend;

    — being involved in financial management, monitoring plans;

    — undertaking a scrutiny role, carrying out operational tasks;

    — representing community and parental interest, and

    — ensuring the accountability of the governing body and collaborating with other institutions.

  10.  LGA considers that there is no particular reason to believe (from Ofsted or elsewhere) that governance in schools and colleges is fundamentally broken. However, local authorities have been concerned for many years about the capacity for a governing body to be thrown off course by a single maverick governor. Much time can be spent dealing with this. We suggest that there should be a national governor code of conduct and that there should be the ability for a governor of any sort to be potentially liable to a vote of no confidence requiring resignation, with a local authority appeal process.

  11.  Further, despite the immensely valuable contribution of many governors, who it should always be remembered are volunteers, school governance has provided growing concern to some Lead Members for Children's Services. The concerns are based around quality and capability as much as accountability. These concerns are more likely to be with regard to primary schools than secondary. The training for, and the understanding of, responsibilities especially in regard to safeguarding, SEN, and employment are just a few of the critical areas. Despite many local authorities providing the opportunities for training, the level of take up is often minimal. School governors are not required to undertake training, nor are chairs of governing bodies. There is a range of providers and a national programme, as well as local authority support.

  12.  Further, the loose definition around categories of governors has allowed the potential for manipulation of appointments to create difficult situations in some areas. College governing bodies are almost wholly fit for purpose.

Is the current accountability system of inspection and performance reporting for schools broadly fit for purpose?

  13.  As stated, inspection and performance are a sub-element of accountability, ensuring that schools deliver what is commonly agreed is adequate or better provision. This is a regulatory framework for standards and effectiveness rather than accountability per se. Accountability must be to local people involved with accessing education or delivery of activities from schools.

14.  LGA believes the overall rationale of inspection and performance is quite right. However, the current situation can be fragmented, inconsistent and not necessarily designed to support school improvement on an ongoing basis. Governor Mark, the voluntary quality mark for governance, notes that from September 2003 the School Inspection Framework for Schools has included criteria for the inspection of governance. However, short notice inspections may have a side effect where the "process has the potential to exclude the governing body from active engagement with the inspection team and thereby make judgements on the quality of governance very difficult". It goes on to note that it is therefore "vital that the governing body are also able to evidence their own process of self-evaluation and assess their contribution towards and impact upon school improvement".[2] Another recent study on governance concluded that:

    Given the governing body's responsibilities, the inspection of their work and their involvement in the inspection process are limited.[3]

  15.  Effective governing bodies:

    — have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities;

    — share a common vision of what the school is trying to achieve;

    — are well attended;

    — have good communication;

    — work to clearly structured agenda;

    — are effectively chaired;

    — have meetings where members feel able to speak their minds, and

    — are supplied with good quality, relevant information.

  16.  Many, however, can feel:

    — overloaded—governing bodies are responsible for too much;

    — overcomplicated—their work is very complex, difficult and demanding, and

    — overlooked—what governing bodies are responsible for goes largely unnoticed.[4]

  17.  In addition to somewhat ambiguous definitions at times of their real responsibilities in regulations and guidance, the School Governance Study also noted inherent tensions that governing bodies have to contend with when discharging their functions, notably:

    — support versus challenge;

    — representation versus skill;

    — operational versus strategic, and

    — organising versus scrutiny.[5]

  18.  Overall, LGA believes that performance management requires relatively simple but robust systems throughout the maintained sector, based on self-evaluations against standardised data, ratified by the local authority, and checked by inspection; with standardised reporting to constituencies through the school report card or similar. The complexity and analysis around performance management can be an area not well understood by governing bodies.

  19.  Schools face Ofsted inspections and local authority assessment through School Improvement Partners (SIPs) and receive support both locally through the local authority and from central government programmes, notably National Strategies (including National Challenge). Given the need for local accountability, it is sometimes not clear how local requirements and context is adequately addressed. Contextual value added—though sometimes controversial in methodology—is extremely important in underpinning local accountability and improvement planning. It demonstrates that national references and data can have a respect for local circumstances and needs so that problems can be challenged in the most relevant and tailored way and that local people can understand that.

  20.  There remains ongoing anecdotal evidence about the inconsistency of inspection judgements and this again can demonstrate the need for local accountability as necessary alongside inspection, not only to face up to difficult problems and make stark decisions, but also in enabling relationships to weather storms and get improvement back on track. In many cases, this is a key local authority function, combining local understanding, expertise and challenge. National bodies may come in and deliver verdicts or support over a short timescale or a narrow scope. Local accountability is required because improvement actually happens best at the frontline with local professionals supported by those with local understanding.

How should schools be held accountable for their performance in the context of increasing collaboration in education provision?

  21.  School governance must strike a careful balance between enabling the autonomy of the school to function efficiently and effectively day-to-day and also providing a point of accountability. For the last twenty years, local authorities, for example, have had far less day-to-day management over schools. Autonomy is to be welcomed as it can improve efficiency and innovation at the frontline of learning. This is more problematic where not everything is working as it should or where co-operation between schools and other schools or between schools and other services would help improve outcomes for young people. The local authority has duties for the more general planning of learning locally.

22.  Academies, CTCs and CCTAs clearly hold a particular degree of autonomy through their funding arrangements directly with the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, the outcomes of local children and young people are best served where Academies, other local schools and local authorities work well together and very many do. Notwithstanding the autonomy of institutions, the local authority has duties both under the Education Acts (most recently the Education and Inspections Act 2006) to ensure the educational fulfilment of all children and young people in its area, as well as duties to ensure the well-being of children, including education and achievement, under section 10 of the Children Act 2004. The local authority may use legitimate methods of scrutiny, eg of outcomes' data, performance of partnerships etc., to help hold individual institutions to account or to raise concerns. The LGA has welcomed the provision in the current Apprencticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill (clause 184(2)(a)) which extends the Children Act's 'duty to co-operate' to other educational institutions, including Academies. This will mean that these institutions can both input more effectively to the Children and Young People's Commissioning Plan and be built into the wider accountabilities of the Children's Trust Board for outcomes to young people.

  23.  The 14-19 curriculum is becoming more unified, and the diversity characteristic of the 16-19 phase will increasingly apply from 14-19. Many schools are already commissioning 14-16 provision from colleges and training providers, often through consortium arrangements.

  24.  This diversity of provision provides opportunities for local authorities and providers to secure and commission effective, high quality and flexible provision to meet learners' needs, and poses challenges around such areas as performance management, accountability, and funding allocations.

  25.  Local authority commissioners of 16-19 education provision need to know that the provision being commissioned is of the highest quality possible. Commissioners need to be assured that providers or institutions are committed to continual development and improvement, and that where quality of provision is less than adequate, rapid steps will be taken to make improvements, if necessary, by externally imposed action.

  26.  The key agency for driving improvement is the institution or provider itself, supported as appropriate by other providers working in local delivery consortia. Support and challenge are also delivered by the sponsoring agency; where this is not effective, the sponsoring agency will have duties to secure improvement. For schools, the sponsoring agency is the local authority, with support and challenge delivered through the local authority school improvement service, which may be internal or externally contracted, and through school improvement partners. For academies, the proposal is that the YPLA provides the service. For sixth form colleges, the sponsoring agency will be the local authority, with support and challenge delivered through the local authority school improvement service, which may be internal or externally contracted, and through school improvement partners. For GFE colleges, the SFA will be the sponsoring agency and with local authorities and the YPLA to identify underperformance, commissioning the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) as necessary.

  27.  Independent and third sector providers are responsible for their own improvement and are subject to a range of contractual provisions should the quality of their work not be appropriate.

  28.  Proposals for the future performance management for 16-19 education are disparate and complex. They include the School Report Card, the Data Dashboard, a variety of Ofsted inspection frameworks, the Framework for Excellence, Comprehensive Area Assessments, Self-Regulation, and Performance Tables, together with potential intervention by a variety of sponsoring bodies. Unless these are brought together into a single integrated system there is likely to be both public and professional confusion and inefficient use of resources.

  29.  It is necessary that all those institutions or providers engaged in delivering education and training outcomes for young people are credited, or otherwise, when those outcomes are, or are not, delivered. Institutional inspection alone cannot identify these. A wider assessment of the overall performance of local providers is necessary through the local 14-19 Area Partnership and the effectiveness of its commissioning strategy. Have the outcomes the Partnership has set been appropriate and suitably met and if not why not?

March 2009


1   Not printed. Back

2   Governor Mark: Quality Mark for Governance, GLM governance, leadership and management, p2-see: Back

3   Governing our Schools: The School Governance Study, Business in the Community/University of Bath, October 2008, p62-see: http://www.ncogs.org.uk/emie/content.asp?id<&lowbar;>content=1244&id<&lowbar;>category=920&level=&spass=true&spass<&lowbar;>id=&spass<&lowbar;>user= Back

4   Ibid. p61 Back

5   Ibid. p63 Back

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