School Partnerships and Cooperation - Education Committee Contents

4 Incentivising partnerships


58. A major lever for policy makers is the incentives provided by Ofsted's frameworks, against which schools know they will be judged. We therefore explored the potential for these to have a role in incentivising partnerships. At the moment, it appears that the potential is not being fully realised. Professor David Woods suggested that, while recognition of outstanding leadership beyond an individual school is mentioned in some Ofsted reports, it is very "hit and miss" and incentives should be strengthened.[116]

59. We heard various suggestions to make better use of these incentives. Earlier this year Sir Michael Wilshaw told us that he would like to introduce a grade for "excellent leadership" specifically for headteachers that "support an underperforming school in the most disadvantaged communities".[117] Written evidence to this inquiry from Nottingham City Council suggested that "A pre-requisite of an overall 'Outstanding' grade by Ofsted could be evidence of having had a measurable impact on supporting other schools".[118] The Greater Manchester Partnership concurred in its support for including school to school support as one of Ofsted's criteria:

    The proposal to include school to school support as one of the Ofsted criteria for receiving an outstanding judgement has significant merit and would act as an incentive to develop a more systematic approach to school to school support.[119]

Similarly, the Academies Commission recommended that Ofsted should only judge a school's leadership as outstanding if the school could provide evidence of a contribution to system-wide improvement.[120] Members of the Commission subsequently told us that they also supported the proposal that Ofsted should deny an overall outstanding judgement to the school as a whole unless this condition was met.[121] Kirston Nelson from Wigan Council told us of her disappointment that a judgment based on a school's capacity to support other schools was not included in Ofsted's new framework.[122]

60. We discussed with the Minister the possibility of introducing a new Ofsted category which would recognise school to school support. He expressed concern that this could be "confusing",[123] arguing that it might lead parents to think the education provided by schools judged 'outstanding' was inferior to those who are judged 'outstanding and providing support to other schools'. Instead he referred to proposals for "a star rating for the leadership of the schools involved in system support",[124] which would be kept distinct to avoid confusion.

61. We agree with the Government that it would be incorrect and confusing for Ofsted to label outstanding schools differently according to their excellence in supporting other schools, when they deliver just as good levels of education to the pupils in their care. We strongly support Sir Michael Wilshaw's proposal for an excellent leadership award to be given to school leaders rather than schools, as the highest accolade available to headteachers and only for those who support underperforming schools in disadvantaged communities.

School accountability measures

62. The school accountability system rests entirely upon a school's own results. The system therefore provides no recognition of a school's efforts to help other schools to improve. Indeed, both the Teacher Development Trust[125] and ASCL argue that the current accountability system acts as a disincentive for schools to work with others,[126] due to the risks discussed above that results may be adversely affected. To address this, Peter Maunder argued that the accountability system should be strengthened by "looking at a whole area—the children and the education of those children across an area—between schools in terms of school improvement, teaching school alliances, federations all working together".[127] The NASUWT highlighted "the previous administration's School Report Card proposal, subsequently discarded by the Coalition Government, [which] sought to examine ways in which systems of accountability might be recast to emphasise more effectively the importance of collaboration between schools."[128]

63. We are concerned that using the accountability system to make schools responsible for all the children within their local area could dilute their focus on achieving the best possible outcomes for their pupils. As Andrew McCully from the DfE suggested to us, despite agreeing with the ultimate aim, over-complicating the system might also reduce its effectiveness.[129] We note that neither the Government's consultation on school accountability measures for secondary schools[130] nor the consultation on primary schools referred to trying to use school accountability measures to encourage school collaboration.[131] We regret that no one has yet devised a workable model of school accountability that incentivises schools to form partnerships, whilst preserving school level responsibility and retaining the impetus to maximise their pupils' performance. We see the potential of such an approach and encourage further efforts to generate an appropriate model.

Financial incentives

64. A more direct incentive for collaboration would be a financial one. Evidence presented to us suggested that funding was needed to ensure that schools did not suffer losses, rather than to act as an additional reward. The NUT pointed out that "many activities require teacher time, both during and beyond the school day, as well as support staff administration and co-ordination".[132] Mervyn Wilson told us that, while he was "rather cautious about the over incentivising that creates the wrong motives", there was a role for financial incentives, in particular to meet specific costs associated with building a formal partnership. He expressed disappointment at the closure of the Supported Schools Programme, which provided funding towards the costs of conversion to foundation status.[133] Similarly, Nottingham City Council argued in its written evidence for "Financial inducements to meet the costs of supporting other schools", including back-filling for the staff working in other schools.[134] Collaborative Schools Ltd. argued that financial incentives could help to alleviate pressures on the capacity of highly performing schools to support others.[135]

65. The Government recognises the role of using financial incentives per se, with programmes such as the NLE Deployment Fund, Sponsor Capacity Fund, and initial funding for Teaching Schools.[136] The 2010 Schools White Paper stated that the Government would "establish a new collaboration fund worth £35m each year [which] will financially reward schools which support weaker schools to demonstrably improve their performance while also improving their own".[137] It was not clear to us what had become of this promise. On 24 April 2013 the Minister of State for Schools (Rt. Hon. David Laws MP) stated in a parliamentary answer that no allocations had been made "using the model originally envisaged in the White Paper".[138] When pushed in oral evidence, Andrew McCully did "not quite recognise that particular bit of the White Paper".[139] The Minister later wrote to inform us that, in fact, the DfE had "not made a specific allocation to a collaboration incentive" but did fund "a number of initiatives that facilitate school to school collaboration". These included using inspirational leaders to build capacity and the sponsored academy programme. Taking account of the costs of these programmes, "the Department has spent far more than £35 million per annum on supporting school collaboration".[140] We note from this reply that the Department is unable to quantify exactly how much has been spent on rewarding school to school collaboration, nor has it been able to offer an explanation as to why the initiative was dropped.

66. In its original evidence the DfE also highlighted the Primary Chains Grant, which it told us provided "£25,000 of financial support to primary schools converting as part of an academy chain" to recognise "both the benefits of academy chains and the particular challenges primary schools face when managing conversions".[141] We heard some concern about the over-emphasis on academisation in relation to primary schools. The Academies Commission, for example, recommended that "the federation of primary schools be encouraged without an immediate emphasis on academy status".[142] Similarly, the National Governors' Association considered that primary schools should be "offered financial incentives to use the collaboration regulations and/or form federations",[143] and Dr John Dunford argued that "The government should provide stronger financial incentives to small primary schools to federate".[144]

67. We believe that the Government should provide funding to help schools meet the costs associated with taking part in collaboration. We are concerned that the existing funding incentives are concentrated too narrowly on the academy sponsorship route. The Government should widen this funding to help meet the costs associated with formalising other partnerships. In particular, we recommend that the Government widen eligibility for the Primary Chains Grant to help schools cover the cost of forming federations, since many would benefit from working in partnership without leaving local authority control.

Funding for Teaching Schools

68. Specific questions were raised with us about funding for Teaching Schools. We heard arguments against the very principles of the Teaching School form of collaboration. The NASUWT argued in its written evidence that "incentives have been created for schools involved in [teaching schools] to focus on commercial objectives and priorities rather than on ensuring that collaboration works to maintain and enhance the quality and range of educational opportunities made available to pupils".[145] Other witnesses were concerned about the structure of the funding arrangements. Funding for Teaching Schools is currently tapered over three years and Dr John Dunford argued that this should be changed to ensure that the "very small" amount of funding available for local partnerships "continues to stimulate the collaborative working of teaching school alliances".[146] He argued that the withdrawal of funding might prevent schools from taking on the role in the first place.[147] Professor David Woods agreed, suggesting that, while it was right not to fund the entire programme, the funding represented very good value for money at "only £60,000 for an infrastructure of 15 to 20 schools".[148]

69. The potential extension of funding was not universally supported. Sir David Carter, for example, argued that it was clear from the start that this funding was short term and that it is "appropriate to apply a business model" in this way.[149] This would allow for continuity, with the support provided by Teaching Schools able to survive future changes in policy, including, for example, the end of Teaching Schools as an initiative. He also expressed concern that unless it is clear that 'pump-priming' funding will be withdrawn after a set period, schools may not plan for its withdrawal and could become dependent on it.[150]

70. We recognise the challenges posed by the nature of funding for Teaching Schools but the take-up rate of the Teaching School Programme suggests that concern about the limited period of funding has not deterred schools from participating. We believe that the DfE has adopted the right approach in providing funding only to help with start up costs with the expectation that they become self-sustaining organisations thereafter.

Independent State School Partnerships

71. We were told that Independent State School Partnerships (ISSPs), such as that in York which we heard about from Leo Winkley,[151] have the potential to bring large benefits to independent and state partners. Mr Winkley set out how such partnerships can do a lot with "quite modest funding",[152] and the Independent Schools Council (ISC) told us that "Numerous external assessments of the scheme noted the positive outcomes for thousands of children".[153] ISSPs allow these schools to work together in "flexible" ways, a quality greatly valued by participants from the independent sector.[154][155]

72. The Independent Schools Council was critical of the removal of seed corn funding for such partnerships, which they perceived as an effort to prioritise "a single preferred model of engagement, that of sponsored academy".[156] Recently, the Secretary of State for Education has called for more independent schools to become Teaching Schools.[157] This adds an additional route for engagement, but it does not offer the same scope as ISSPs, which often include shared activities for pupils as well as teachers, such as the "Saturday sessions for pupils across the schools in York" that Leo Winkley described.[158]

73. Independent schools and state schools have much they can do for and usefully learn from one another. We welcome the Government's steps to promote closer links between the independent and maintained education sectors, but consider that academy sponsorship is not always the right engagement model for such partnerships. We recommend that the Government re-introduce targeted seed corn funding to encourage the establishment of sustainable Independent State School Partnerships.

116   Q 137 Back

117   Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 13 February 2013, HC (2012-13) 980-i, Q 15 Back

118   Ev w9, para 2 Back

119   Ev w52 Back

120   Academies Commission, Unleashing greatness: Getting the best from an academised system (London, 2013) p 10 Back

121   Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 24 April 2013, HC (2012-13) 1102-i, Q 8 Back

122   Q 138 Back

123   Q 191 Back

124   Q 191 Back

125   Ev w107, para 2.1 Back

126   Ev w6, para 5 Back

127   Q 37 Back

128   Ev w56, para 16 Back

129   Q 253 Back

130   "Secondary school accountability consultation", Government Consultations, 7 February 2013, Back

131   "Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum", Department for Education, 17 July 2012, Back

132   Ev w33, para 51 Back

133   Q 33 Back

134   Ev w9, para 2 Back

135   Ev w49m para 4.1 Back

136   Ev w107, para 21 Back

137   Department for Education, The Importance of Teaching: the Schools White Paper 2010, Cm 7980, November 2010, para 7.13 Back

138   HC Deb, 24 April 2013, col 959W. Back

139   Q190 [Andrew McCully] Back

140   Ev 56, para 3 Back

141   Ev 46 Back

142   Academies Commission, Unleashing greatness: Getting the best from an academised system (London, 2013), p 35 Back

143   Ev w90, para 4.5 Back

144   Ev 79, para 12 Back

145   Ev w56, para. 30 Back

146   Q 99 [Dr. John Dunford] Back

147   Ev 79, para 6 Back

148   Q 140 Back

149   Q 31 Back

150   Q 33 Back

151   Ev 57 Back

152   Q 32 Back

153   Ev w86, Executive Summary para 4 Back

154   Ev 57, para 5.1 Back

155   Ev w86, para 3s tlication was tmmary para il (ISC) r school staff (with the schools designated National Support Schools (NSS) not yet ready t Back

156   Ev w86, para 15 Back

157   Michael Gove calls on independent schools to help drive improvements to state education, Department for Education press release, 10 July 2013, Back

158   Q 18 Back

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Prepared 6 November 2013