- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)


1 APRIL 2009

  Q120  Derek Twigg: If you don't mind me interrupting, that is again about process. What is the evidence that you are making a real difference on the ground?

  Declan McCauley: The evidence would be the feedback that we receive from the schools. We are quite closely quality assured. There is a performance management process in place. We also report back to governors so, again, feedback is the main thing.

  Q121  Chairman: Is it feedback or just a warm feeling? Councillor Lawrence was very strong about the impact of classroom assistants, but early research shows that classroom assistants do not seem to make much difference.

  Declan McCauley: From my perspective of looking after three schools in Warwickshire, my performance management process included questionnaires being sent out to head teachers—totally confidential—and returned to a senior line manager of mine at the local authority, as well as an on-site visit when I was monitored working with the school, face-to-face discussion with the line manager, looking at what schools actually thought about what I was bringing to the process, discussing that and setting me targets for this academic year.

  Lorraine Cooper: As for the evidence, the local authority monitors the outcomes very closely over a period of time. I would monitor, for instance, the outcomes of Ofsted inspections and whether they match or do not match the views of SIPs, and whether we have a problem—a differential view, and so on. We would look at the data from schools to see whether the targets set are appropriate and at an appropriate level or whether they are not, and whether the right level of challenge is going in. We use a raft of evaluation tools to begin to gather evidence about whether SIPs are having an appropriate impact. It is fairly early days. In primary, we have only had them for 18 months. When they came in, it was a big change for personnel getting to know schools. We are certainly building up those sorts of processes all the time to try to get the evaluative evidence. We are held very heavily to account by visits from those in the national strategy who talk to us about the evidence of impact and outcomes for schools.

  Q122  Derek Twigg: I thought that there was such support among head teachers for the process—that it was making a difference—that people would be queuing up to take the jobs, but I think that we are actually short of them.

  Lorraine Cooper: Yes.

  Q123  Derek Twigg: Is it not the case that some head teachers are refusing to have SIPs? Have you had any evidence that local authorities are accepting it or is that not the case?

  Lorraine Cooper: It is certainly not the case in my experience.

  Derek Twigg: So there is no instance of a head teacher refusing to have a SIP?

  Lorraine Cooper: No.

  Q124  Derek Twigg: Basically, there is not actual evidence at the moment. You are getting more of a feeling and feedback. You said earlier in your first contribution that one of the concerns about school improvement is the robustness and accuracy of data. This probably feeds into that.

  Lorraine Cooper: It does. You will not have that evidence in five minutes. Schools do not work like that. They do not change like that. It is a case of gathering evidence over time, but we do rigorous analysis of our data to make sure that we are beginning to get some evidence of where the impact is and where it might not be. But recruitment is certainly a major factor.

  Lynda Jones: It is fair to say that the LA would consider the performance of each of its schools. That is the main way in which we work out how schools are doing. SIPs add to that and are part of it, but they are not the sole contributor.

  Q125  Derek Twigg: I have just one final question. I am sure that people talk about report cards, but from your experience as both a teacher and a deputy head teacher, and also of SIPs, what single most important factor—or one or two important factors—do you believe helps school improvement?

  Lynda Jones: Perhaps I can mention the strengthening role of governance. One advantage of the SIP programme has been to bring more cohesion to the role of governors and accountability by strengthening the role between head teacher appraisal and the review of the progress relating to the data. Enabling governors to be effective—I have seen throughout my teaching career—can be problematic, possibly, and this is a real means by which you can add cohesion to that. So, it is probably not the most significant feature, but a point that I would like to make in relation to school improvement, the School Improvement Partner, and the ways in which the School Improvement Partner works relating to governance and accountability.

  Derek Twigg: It speaks into accountability as well.

  Chairman: Can we move on quickly. Declan, Lorraine, and then I want to come back to Andy for a very quick question, because I know that he has got to leave.

  Declan McCauley: It comes down to the accountability issue at the end of the day. Within a school, you are accountable for how well the students are doing. To have someone from outside coming in, asking us difficult questions in the kind of relationship that Lorraine has spoken about, that is what it comes down to—the pressure is on you to perform.

  Lorraine Cooper: I would add that there is no doubt in my mind that outstanding schools have outstanding leaders. I am not just talking about head teachers; I am talking about leaders through the layers. Therefore, a major role for anybody working at the interface of school improvement has to be about how you grow and develop outstanding leaders, because although some people seem to get it almost by osmosis as they go through their professional career, not all do. Some need greater support and input to develop those leadership skills in a way that means that the school can become outstanding, because it has that sort of outstanding leadership. That is a very major role for SIPs, which is perhaps why there was an emphasis on people who had leadership experience undertaking that role.

  Chairman: Andy, I said that I would call you again.

  Q126  Mr Slaughter: Is there a preference for SIPs being working head teachers? There may be some cross-fertilisation, with benefits for the SIP—as well as the school they are going into—and perhaps a greater degree of practicality than one may get with someone appointed directly by the local authority. If the SIP is a member of the LEA staff, it is more like another level of inspection and you lose something that is special about the SIP process. If that were right, do you agree with the NUT suggestion, which is that the school should appoint the SIP—they already pay for the SIP—rather than the LEA?

  Declan McCauley: Certainly, from talking to the head teachers who I work with as a SIP, they feel that having someone who is a serving head teacher is very valuable to them in their role, because they recognise that I face the same issues and concerns as them on a day-to-day basis. I understand where they are coming from as head teachers. The rigour that you get by changing SIP every three years is important; it is important that the relationship does not become cosy. To manage that, as a school, would be very difficult. The difficulty lies, from where I am coming from, in there not being enough head teachers out there who would go forward to SIPs. There are many reasons for that, not least having to leave their own school for five days for each school where you are a SIP. That is a large amount of time and you have to have structures in place in your school to enable you to do that, and in many schools that is not the case.

  Lorraine Cooper: We asked for some feedback from head teachers on this very question about how they see the different roles that are there. There has not been a strong body of evidence coming back from head teachers which says that they feel disadvantaged if they do not have a head teacher as a SIP. In fact, there has been quite a body of evidence—and I can only speak within our authority, obviously, at the moment—that says that for a fairly large percentage of schools, they were very happy to have continued with the person who they perceived as being a local authority employee. They have not seen that as a problem. There may be some differences here and, of course, all members of the primary School Improvement Service in our authority were also head teachers, so there was an understanding of that leadership level of working within a school. While we may not be doing that on a day-to-day basis, and do not have the clarity that Declan would have about what letter happens to fall on the desk that day—I do not deny that those sorts of things are a very valuable aspect of a school's work—I think the nature of our work means that we have to keep up to speed with most of the other things that are going on that head teachers are considering. So I do not particularly see that as a major disadvantage, and feedback from schools certainly does not suggest that they think it is either.

  Q127  Mr Slaughter: You do not think there is a danger of a local authority agenda being imposed on a school, which you would not get if you had another head teacher there?

  Lorraine Cooper: I think that for all SIPs, to some extent, there is a local authority perspective on the agenda, but we have been quite careful to manage our process in a way in which there are certain things that will need to be looked at during the course of the annual cycle of being a SIP at the interface of the school. That is about validating whether or not the school is performing in the way that it should, and about advising on things like the school's performance category, so that we know the level of support that it might need and so on. We have tried very hard to leave a significant part of the agenda to the school at the interface with its SIP, so it decides what the agenda is at that level. It has also been a very deliberate move on our part to avoid a situation where SIPs become a conduit for local authority messages. That is not to say that the context for the local authority is not important; in our initial briefing at the beginning of the year before target setting, we say, "Here are the strengths and weaknesses coming out of our local authority data and these are the sorts of things you might want to check with your schools. If we have a weakness in this area, you need to see whether that is a weakness in the school that you are working in." But I do not think that we put too much on to SIPs in terms of saying, "You must pursue this local authority agenda." We try to keep a balance.

  Q128  Mrs Hodgson: May I get you to tease out and paint a picture of how SIPs work in practice in terms of the time spent in school? Is it an ongoing process of so many hours a week? Is it an intensive, week-long process? I understand that some SIPs are head teachers and some work for local authorities, so it is almost like a second job. Will you explain how it all works in reality?

  Chairman: Does anyone who becomes a SIP suddenly find that their school is falling to pieces while they are away? Sorry, I am sure that that never happens. Lynda, would you like to lead on that one?

  Lynda Jones: There is a standard allocation of days for each school and a standard modus operandi, if you like, so there is a five-day allocation for each school with the expectation that as soon as the data is available, there will be a discussion with the head teacher. We have not mentioned the rest of the senior leadership team, but, going back to Lorraine's point about leadership in schools, it is very much the role of the SIP to seek to develop leadership capacity, so they will go through the data at that time to produce a data report, which will obviously be quite a complex affair. Governors will also be there, and the report will enable everybody to have a shared understanding of what the school's strengths and areas of development are. Those areas of development come at the end of the report, and are a shared view that will be reflected in the school's development plan, and informed by the self-evaluation form. Although it may appear that you are dropping in and doing a report following the analysis, it is actually much more coherent than that. We will also follow the performance management of the head teacher that term. The SIPs support that, and, while the governors actually do it, it is the SIP, as the professional person allocated to the school, who will perform that. Clearly, that will be done within the report's context and the imperatives for improvement that will have been identified by it. There will then follow a programme that will be discussed with the school and that is responsive to its needs. We very much want to do that, so they will use your time on possibly a consultancy basis and say, "This is my judgment; I have identified this in the SIP." When trust has been established, they will say, "This is a weaker area; could you go and have a look at it for me?" Yesterday, for example, in my SIP work I was looking at teaching in the sixth form. It was driven by judgments about data, and I was there to support teachers' self-evaluation, which they will feed into their self-evaluation form for Ofsted. That would be an activity in the second term. It is a cycle, as Lorraine says, and in the third term there would be oral feedback to the governors on the work that has progressed that year and how it relates to school improvement.

  Q129  Mrs Hodgson: I am trying to get an understanding of the time commitment. I understand the process and the whys, but how much time are we talking about—an hour or two hours a week?

  Lorraine Cooper: There is a five-day allocation of SIP work per school.

  Mrs Hodgson: Per year.

  Lorraine Cooper: Per year. In some local authorities, I believe that that allocation may be differentiated slightly so that good schools get slightly less time and other schools slightly more. In Warwickshire, we have a five-day standard allocation for our schools, and there is an expectation that the SIPs will spend the majority of that time in school—at the interface with the school. But they will spend an hour or two on preparation and on analysis of information and data that come through, and an hour writing up a report at the end of the day on which they do the work. So, it is nothing like as extensive as half an hour or an hour in the school every week. I am responsible for three SIP schools and probably get into them twice a term. I have that sort of level of contact. It is not weekly, by any means. One of the issues is that very many SIPs, particularly the external consultant SIPs and head teachers, are not always able to give more time than that, even if it is needed, because they are employed in other work as well. That can be an issue—it is one of the constraints. It means that the local authority School Improvement Service working absolutely hand in glove with the SIP is essential, because if a school really fell into trouble, it might well be that their SIP would not be the person who could instantly respond by putting considerably more time in. So, we have to look at how that can be managed at local authority level. Generally, that sort of increased level of work might have to come from within the School Improvement Service as opposed to from just the SIP.

  Q130  Mrs Hodgson: Just one more point of clarity. You mentioned that you are the SIP for two or three schools. What is the norm? Is it one SIP per school? What is the average number of schools that a SIP covers?

  Lorraine Cooper: It varies between the primary and secondary sectors, which is what Lynda has just pointed out. I believe that in secondary in Warwickshire no SIP has more than three schools. In primary, purely because of the numbers game, we have some SIPs with 16 schools. So, it can be anywhere along the spectrum from three to 16. It really depends on how much time they give—how many days they are contracted to provide the service for. Head teachers generally will not take more than three schools. That would be the maximum for a head teacher SIP.

  Q131  Chairman: So, someone who did 16 would be, say, a retired head.

  Lorraine Cooper: No, people who did that many might be fully employed local authority people or privately employed consultants. At the head teacher end of the spectrum there tend to be fewer schools per SIP.

  Q132  Chairman: Following on from Sharon, what happens when the National Challenge advisers come in? Are they basically the same people putting more time in?

  Lynda Jones: It depends on whether the local authority has appropriate SIPs to take on the National Challenge adviser role. We were able to use two of our existing SIPs, who had that experience.

  Q133  Chairman: Do they have to be differently or better qualified?

  Lynda Jones: Yes, they are known as super-SIPs, so they have to go through an additional accreditation process. We were able to use two of our existing SIPs to become National Challenge advisers.

  Q134  Chairman: Could any of you be super-SIPs?

  Lynda Jones: If you wanted to.

  Q135  Chairman: But you would have to do another qualification?

  Lynda Jones: You would have to be accredited, yes.

  Q136  Chairman: This all sounds interesting. What do you think about this, Les? Have you been more or less convinced about the role of SIPs by what you have heard?

  Cllr Lawrence: I think that local government per se has become more convinced of the SIP process as it has bedded in and been shown to be a valuable support structure to many head teachers, especially new head teachers. Also, it is a sounding board, whereby head teachers can seek to gain assistance and independent advice on issues that they feel need to be addressed in their schools. Suffice to say that when the SIPs system first started, we thought that it was a way of creating cosy relationships between individual schools and different head teachers. However, as I said, that view has totally changed and we see SIPs as an invaluable part of the accountability framework.

  Chairman: Les, you astound me by just how open-minded you are, and how willing you are to change your mind on things. I am really encouraged by what you have been saying today. To wind up, we will have a couple of questions each from both Paul and Annette, who have been very patient.

  Q137  Annette Brooke: I have just one question, but it is quite a complex question. We were talking earlier with Les about the collaborative approach and the fact that local authorities do not often serve notices. Then there is the proposed change in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill that will enable moves to be taken in the case of coasting schools, for example. Now, what I really want to know is how does the SIP work with the School Improvement Service? Lynda mentioned the fact that, when a school is causing some concern at whatever level, there would be more than one person coming into the school. How does that process work? Is it collaboration, or is it a case of actually pushing for the school to be put into some more formal notice—let us put it that way—when problems are obviously being picked up?

  Lorraine Cooper: The process that operates within Warwickshire is very clear. If a SIP is in a school and starts to pick up on the fact that there are significant problems that are going to need higher-level support and intervention, it has the capacity to contact us and to say, "We believe that the school is at risk and we think that it needs a full review to see what is happening". That full review would be conducted and it would look in depth at the sorts of issues that the SIP has raised and it would have all the records of visit, because they all come back into the local authority and every single one of them is read every time that they come in. So we are gathering that evidence from schools anyway, on an ongoing basis.

  Q138  Annette Brooke: I am sorry to cut across you; I apologise. Is that a risk of going into special measures, or is it more all-embracing, to pick up the coasting school too?

  Lorraine Cooper: It is all-embracing. We do not just pick up those schools that we think might go into special measures. We have different categories that we allocate to schools, and those categories are allocated by the SIPs to a set of criteria that they are given. The SIPs do everything from allocating a category of "outstanding" right the way through the spectrum, so that if a school is coasting we would pick that up from the data. We would also expect the SIP to have picked that up from the data. We would then expect that problem to be reported back in the category that the school is allocated on the record of visit that is sent back to the local authority. If there is concern, we would look at that as a table-top exercise. If we get those alerts back from SIPs, we will look at the situation, look at the evidence base, gather our internal evidence in addition to the evidence that the SIP is providing, and at that point we would put together, with the school, a plan to bring about the changes that need to happen. So, if the school is designated as being in a category of concern by the SIP, in conjunction with the school and governing body, that will automatically bring into play some quite rigorous systems. There is a system to support the school, by providing whatever might be needed in terms of training, development and assistance, but there is also a very clear system of accountability, where there are time frames attached, governors and head teachers of schools would meet regularly with us, at least on a termly basis if not a half-termly basis, and we have what we call a review and intervention meeting, where we measure the progress that the school has made towards the success criteria that were agreed at the beginning for improvement. If that improvement does not happen—and we hope that it is done along the way—we must look and ask what are the factors sitting behind that. Is it that the local authority support is not working? What other factors are impacting on that? Are there problems with the leadership? If that is found to be the case, we would—and do—take rigorous action.There is a strong process, and the SIP is central to that. They are the person who knows the school well and will alert us to any issues at the beginning.

  Q139  Annette Brooke: So the SIP could be the person or instrument through which the pack of cards comes tumbling down, in the case of a head resigning, special measures and so on?

  Lorraine Cooper: Yes.

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