5 Coordinating collaboration |
The middle tier and the new role
of local authorities
74. The debate over whether there is a need for a
middle tier in the new school system as a result of the academies
programme has been going on for some time. Several submissions
to this inquiry argued that a middle tier is an important part
of a self-improving school system. The McKinsey report "How
the world's best education systems keep getting better" argues
for the critical role of a "mediating layer" or middle
tier for several reasons: they can provide targeted support to
schools; act as a buffer between central government and schools;
and enhance collaborative exchange between schools (for example
through brokering support).A
review of the role of the middle tier by the National Foundation
for Educational Research argued that the key foci for the middle
tier in enabling school-to-school support are to:
Develop a long-term vision and strategy for Teaching
and Learning that moves beyond compliance and to which all partners
sign up. [...] Develop a framework for school-to-school support.[...]
Embed evaluation and challenge.
75. Who or what should constitute the middle tier
is also a matter of some long-standing debate. Dr John Dunford
argued that Ofsted might have an important role in brokering partnerships,
especially in using its data as "the starting point for a
comprehensive database of excellent practice".
The majority of witnesses, however, pointed to the unique position
of local authorities. The Local Government Association told us
that "The councils we have spoken to see a continuing council
role in holding school improvement partnerships to account, backed
by a continuing council role in tackling underperforming schools.
The importance of this 'convening' and 'accountability' role for
councils has been underscored by Ofsted's decision to inspect
council school improvement services".
Devon County Council also considered that "the Local Authority's
brokerage role is key and ensures that these partnerships are
robust and sustainable."
Speaking from a non-local authority viewpoint, Sir David Carter
cited the "soft intelligence" held by local authorities
and the important role this can have for effective collaboration.
76. Witnesses did not advocate a return to the old
model of LEA-led improvement. Peter Maunder identified some of
the limitations of the previous system, in particular that, while
"the expertise resided in schools", it was delivered
by "top-down systems through advisers and consultants who
had been out of schools for a very long time".
Rather, the evidence suggests that local authorities have already
adopted a new way of working. Recent research for the National
Foundation for Educational Research into what works in enabling
school improvement found that "LAs were repositioning themselves
to put schools in the lead, while securing delivery of their statutory
duties through education partnerships. They were adopting a more
adaptive style of leadership, and were prepared to move radically
to enable school to school support".
77. Mervyn Wilson described the new role of local
authorities as being to create an "enabling environment"
within which schools could find the support they need.
The task for local authorities, therefore, is to have the big
picture of schools across their districts, such that they are
in a position to identify areas of concern and mobilise strengths
within the schools, including academies, which can be used to
address these challenges. At the same time, they must be ready
to intervene where a school is seen to be a cause for concern.
We heard from Kirston Nelson of Wigan Council that this is a model
they have already adopted:
providing an enabling infrastructure, which is
about being able to identify, through performance data, the schools
that may require support through the partnership. It is a commissioning
and brokerage role, but we also have a role in terms of quality
assurance. Our school partnership and the model that we have
put in place reflects that, but it reflects a collective accountability
with head teachers, all on the same driver in terms of moral purpose
for system improvement for all children in Wigan.
78. The new role has been recognised by Ofsted and
by the Government. Earlier this year Sir Michael Wilshaw told
us that "local authorities have a key part to play: in brokering
[school collaboration] and incentivising those chains of schools.
I would hope that central Government provides the financial support
to local authorities so that they can do that".
The Government's Schools White Paper stated that "In a more
autonomous school system, local authorities have an indispensable
role to play as champions of children and parents, ensuring that
the school system works for every family and using their democratic
mandate to challenge every school to do the best for their population".
79. Lessons regarding the tasks required of local
authority staff in this new context can be drawn from the work
carried out by the expert advisers employed to coordinate school
to school support within City Challenge.
There is strong evidence that their contributions were essential
in making partnerships effective, such that the best practices
were made available to a wider number of learners.
80. Local authorities
still have a critical role to play in a school-led improvement
system, in particular through creating an "enabling environment"
within which collaboration can flourish. We welcome Ofsted inspection
of local authorities' school improvement services which has acted
to highlight the importance of this role. We also support the
new system which is emerging with recognition that the expertise
lies within schools but with local authorities as part of the
picture. The role of local authorities is still evolving and some
clarification of what is expected of them is needed. We recommend
that the Government set out clearly the role of local authorities
in helping to broker school-to-school partnerships and acting
as champions of all parents and children, with particular reference
to academies in their region.
81. Mervyn Wilson identified the role of the 'middle
tier' as being "not about control, it is not about delivery,
but it is about a strategic oversight" and argued that "it
does need that joined-up approach, otherwise that will be lost
and people will be left vulnerable".
We heard concerns from witnesses that there are parts of the country
where little school-led improvement is occurring. This picked
up on many of the same fears about rural communities and coastal
towns expressed by Sir Michael Wilshaw in his "Unseen Children"
David Woods highlighted this, noting that "geographically,
we are going backwards, arguably, in raising attainment and standards.
In the other half of the countryand I would say that about
London Challenge and City Challengewe are leaping forwards".
Sean Harford, Ofsted Regional Director for London and the East
of England, agreed and highlighted the differences he saw between
the East of England, where Teaching Schools are lacking, and the
continuing progress in London.
In some areas the absence of outstanding schools means that there
are no teaching school alliances and few national leaders of education
to stimulate cooperative activities.
82. To address this difficulty, Sir Michael Wilshaw
has called for 'sub-regional challenges', a more strategic approach
to the appointment of National Leaders of Education, and 'National
Service Teachers' to help spread high quality leadership to where
it is needed.
The DfE told us that, in respect of Teaching Schools, "national
coverage has increased by 16% to 89% and there are now 360 Teaching
Schools with 136 LAs now seeing a Teaching School operating within
We note, however, that some local authorities are very large areas
and being in the same local authority as a Teaching School may
not mean particularly good access for all schools, particular
those in rural areas. As Altringham Grammar School for Girls
pointed out, "Pupils in areas with no Teaching School should
not be disadvantaged; you could match a high-performing school
with schools outside their geographic area".
The DfE explained that the National College had already used
the NLE Deployment Fund to match NLEs with areas of need, including
some NLEs travelling from London to parts of the South East and
East and NLEs from Greater Manchester supporting schools in Merseyside.
Again, we have concerns that there are geographical limits to
the possible success of such an approach.
83. We recommend
that the DfE and NCTL take steps to identify and designate system
leaders, such as National Leaders of Education and Teaching Schools,
in areas where they are currently lacking. This should be coupled
with increased incentives for existing system leaders to work
in the areas of greatest need. Coordination of system leadership
may well be better achieved at a sub-regional or local level than
at the national level and we recommend that DfE and NCTL explore
such an approach.
84. The discussion on system leadership suggests
to us a need for greater oversight of school partnerships and
cooperation, possibly on a regional basis, in order that the successful
practices that exist lead to system-wide improvements. Without
some form of coordination the development of a self-improving
system could lead to some vulnerable pupils being overlooked,
as their schools opt out of any form of grouping. We have already
identified a role for local authorities as part of this greater
orchestration and we also recognise the part played by Ofsted.
Nevertheless, there is a risk that no one will be responsible
for keeping in mind the bigger picture of the patterns that are
emerging and taking steps to encourage the development of fruitful
partnership working in areas where schools are slow to respond
to the existing incentives. This is not about dictating the how,
what and who, but about awareness and enabling. The
Government should set out how organisations in the middle tier
will be held to account for strategic oversight of partnership
working in all schools and how they will ensure that gaps are
not allowed to develop or remain unfilled, particularly in rural
and coastal areas.
Role of advisers
85. As we have noted, there is evidence from the
City Challenge programme that expert advisers made an important
contribution in analysing the situation in schools experiencing
difficulties and finding an appropriate strong partner school.
They also had important roles in ensuring that schools were not
overlooked and, where necessary, brokering partnerships that cut
across traditional local authority boundaries. The independent
evaluation report suggested that this was a key factor in respect
to the success of such arrangements, noting:
Individuals in these roles were valued for their
expertise and for being encouraging and supportive. KTS/PTA worked
best when the Challenge advisors and other key stakeholders including
NLE/LLEs, School Improvement Partners (SIPs) and LA officers worked
effectively together. 
Similar roles were subsequently introduced to support
the National Challenge in secondary schools. However, in the
new policy context, it is unclear who has taken on the role filled
by Challenge advisers. Professor Berwick told us:
We were never able to replicate the adviser role.
It is interesting: we do not have the same degree of advisers,
for a number of reasons. Maybe they were not accredited, or whatever
it is, but they are in short supply, basically because the way
they were operated in London required three really important elements.
There are lots of people around who can judge where a school
is now, and that is done pretty thoroughly and tested in the courts
etc. There is a smaller group who can decide what should happen
next: "We know you are bad but what are the things you ought
to do next to be better?"
He considered that "It is one of the huge issues
in the system at the moment."
86. Dr John Dunford was adamant that advisers should
be found within schools themselves and that the emphasis should
be on "using that expertise and having the leadership capacity
in the schools that employ them to enable them to go and work
in other schools".
Another witness, Kirston Nelson from Wigan Council, pointed out
that providing such expertise raised issues of "funding,
resources and sustainability".
Local authorities do not have sufficient of the former two of
these to ensure the latter.
87. London Challenge
and City Challenge, two of the most successful school improvement
initiatives of recent years, both relied heavily on the use of
expert advisers. We recommend that the Department for Education
make an assessment of the quality and capacity to provide this
expertise within a school-led improvement system and ensure that
schools are aware of where they can access such advice.
159 Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C., Barber, M. (2010) "How
the world's best performing school systems keep getting better",
McKinsey & Co.,p.81-87. Back
Aston, Easton, Sims, Smith, Walter, Crossley and Crossley-Holland
(2013). What works in enabling school improvement? The role of
the middle tier. National Federation for Educational Research.
Ev 79, para.4. Back
Ev 78, paras.1&3.1. Back
Ev 95, p.2. Back
Q 16 Back
Q 15 Back
National Foundation for Educational Research, What works in
enabling school improvement? The role of the middle tier (Slough,
2013), p 4 Back
Q 16 Back
Q 117 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 13 February
2013, HC (2012-13) 980-i, Q 40 Back
Department for Education, The Importance of Teaching: the Schools
White Paper 2010, Cm 7980, November 2010, para 5.28 Back
Hutchings, et al (2012) Back
Q 50 Back
"Unseen Children" Speech by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector,
20 June 2013 Back
Q 166 Back
Q 124 [Sean Harford] Back
Q 125 [Professor Woods] Back
Access and achievement: recommendations, Ofsted, 20 June 2013,
Ev 50 Back
Ev w52, part 3 para 4 Back
Ev 55 Back
Hutchings et al (2012) Evaluation of the City Challenge programme.
Research Report DFE-RR215, Department for Education. Back
Hutchings et al (2012) Evaluation of the City Challenge programme.
Research Report DFE-RR215, Department for Education, p 9 Back
Q130 [Professor Berwick] Back
Q110 [Dr John Dunford] Back
Q130 [Kirston Nelson] Back