Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Governors’ Association (EAB 26)

 

Summary :

· The NGA recognises the need for appropriate intervention where schools are failing in order to deliver better outcomes for pupils as quickly as possible.

· The NGA is not of the view that any one school structure is better than another in ensuring improvement in the outcome for pupils, although one governing board governing more than one school (whether as a multi-academy trust or a maintained federation) does have advantages in improving both the offer and outcomes for pupils when governed and managed well.

· The NAO reported last year that interim executive boards (IEBs) were more successful than academy conversion in tackling under-performance quickly

· The NGA is concerned about the capacity of the Secretary of State and her Regional Schools Commissioners to appropriately exercise the powers afforded to them by the bill, including to make accurate assessments of the effectiveness of governing boards.

· The NGA is opposed to the removal of the need to consult parents, pupils and staff where an academy order is in place, and to the proposed powers for the Secretary of State and her agents to require governing boards to make arrangements with particular sponsors.

School structures and school improvement:

1. The NGA is not of the view that any one school structure – in terms of maintained school or academy - is better than another in bringing about school improvement. The NGA does not think that sponsored academy conversion is the only route to school improvement and is concerned about the bill’s emphasis on school structures given the lack of evidence currently available on the impact of different school types. The House of Commons education select committee’s review of academies and free schools concluded that "Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school." [1]

2. One board governing more than one school (whether as a multi-academy trust or a maintained federation) can have advantages over a stand-alone school/academy in improving both the offer and outcomes for pupils when governed and managed well. The advantages of leading more than one school have been document by Ofsted [2] and NGA has researched the circumstances in which schools choose to come together as federations. [3] However this evidence covers smaller, local federations, and there have been problems with some groups of schools which have expanded too fast without due consideration of governance or executive management structures, capacity and capabilities (see paragraph 4).

3. Of 113 schools which had been judged as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted after having become sponsored academies and have subsequently been re-inspected, 40 had not improved by their next inspection and 23 had declined to ‘inadequate’. [4] This is over half of the schools concerned. Given the relative lack of evidence of the impact of sponsored academy conversion on school performance and the variability of impact between major multi-academy trusts (MATs), the NGA is concerned that this may not be the most effective intervention for all schools at the time when they are struggling. Moreover conversion itself can distract senior leaders and governing boards from the core business of improving teaching and learning, particularly in more challenging schools.

4. The NGA is of the view that multi-academy trusts are most successful at delivering high quality education for their pupils when operating in local clusters. At the Seminar for Local Authority Co-ordinators of Governor Services arranged by NGA and other organisations on 10 February 2015, the Undersecretary of State for Schools Lord Nash stated that it was his opinion that it should be possible for leaders and teachers to travel between schools in a MAT within a lunch-break or school period and has confirmed this view in subsequent conversation. Some large MATs have been barred from taking on more schools, or had schools removed, due to expansion that was too rapid and the failure of their infrastructure to keep pace. [5] It is therefore important that decisions to assign a sponsor to a school take into account the distances between this school and others already belonging to that sponsor, as well as the robustness of the sponsor’s governance arrangements and the capacity for driving improvement. This does not seem to have happened in the past when the DfE considers potential sponsors, and may not even now. The NGA is pleased to see yesterday’s publication of the outcome letter for Ofsted’s first focused inspection of a multi-academy trust as this greater accountability should facilitate appropriate decisions about the sponsorship.

Forms of intervention

5. The only recent assessment of different forms of intervention was carried out by the National Audit Office which reported in October 2014 [6] and concluded:

· "The Department for Education has not demonstrated the effectiveness of the different interventions it and others make in underperforming maintained schools and academies, despite investing at least £382 million annually"

· "Some academy sponsors are very successful, but the Department does not yet know why others are not. The DfE relies on sponsors to turn around underperforming schools but it does not collect information from sponsors about the type of support they give. "

· "In general, underperforming schools identified by Ofsted improve their performance by their next inspection. Ninety-three per cent of schools rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2011/12 had improved by 2013/14. Schools rated ‘satisfactory’ (the rating Ofsted has reclassified as ‘requires improvement’) were less likely to have improved. Only 43% had gained a higher rating by 2013/14."

· As part of our review, we looked for evidence of how formal intervention activity had affected school performance" [7] : the figures provided by the NAO show in 2012/13 that:

o Informal measures only: 60% of schools improved their Ofsted rating

o Warning notice as formal intervention: 27% improved their Ofsted rating

o Sponsored academisation as formal intervention: 44% improved their Ofsted rating

o IEB as formal intervention: 72% of schools improved their Ofsted rating.

Although a relatively small number of schools, this preliminary information suggests that an IEB is more likely to improve the school than sponsored academisation.

6. NGA believes that, when used appropriately, the replacement of a failing governing body with an interim executive board (IEB) can be a highly effective method of promoting school improvement. There is very little guidance on how best to set up or conduct an IEB, and NGA has suggested to the DfE that this would be helpful to ensure the best outcomes for pupils. NGA is also gathering intelligence on this subject.

7. It is unclear how the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) intend to gather enough information about school-level governance to identify risks. From our experience providing advice to and carrying out external reviews of governing boards, the NGA would be wary of a one-size fits all approach to intervention, especially one which assumes that the quality of governance was reflected by overall school performance measures. The NGA has worked with highly successful schools where governance was not robust and also struggling schools where the governing board had taken measures to ensure it has the capacity and skills to drive school improvement. The NGA would expect to see evidence of the capacity of the governing body, in addition to the school’s leadership staff, to improve the school included in the process for determining appropriate intervention in ‘coasting’ and other schools.

8. Under current arrangements, local authorities apply to the Secretary of State for consent to replace the governing body by an IEB. Some local authorities have reported significant delays in receiving approval for IEBs which can have an adversely impact the speed of school improvement. We suggest that the Government should use this bill to remove the need for Secretary of State approval of this level of intervention with maintained schools and let local authorities get on with setting up an IEB when needed. Multi-academy trusts do not have to apply to the Secretary of State to change school level governance; it seems unnecessarily bureaucratic to require local authorities to do so.

Capacity & expertise

9. The NGA is concerned that the current system does not have sufficient capacity for the proposed powers of intervention to be exercised effectively. Successful implementation of the proposed bill relies on the availability of high quality academy sponsors equipped to accelerate school improvement. We are already seeing a shortage of good sponsors as well as a shortage of professionals putting themselves forward to lead challenging schools, a shortage of teachers, and a shortage of volunteers to govern schools. These challenges of finding excellent candidates of course face all our schools, whatever their legal status, and tackling these shortages should be at the heart of the Government’s strategy to ensure all our pupils receive a good education.

10. On 15 June Lord Nash wrote to Directors of Children’s Services to inform them that decision-making on tackling underperformance in maintained schools through sponsored academy arrangements will be delegated to RSCs from 1 July. With DfE press releases estimating that up to 1,000 schools may become eligible for this type of intervention over the course of this parliament, the NGA is concerned about the capacity of RSCs to effectively carry out these functions.

11. NGA has raised at every available opportunity our concern about the relative lack of specific governance expertise on Headteacher Boards which advise RSCs. Some RSCs have given this more priority than others, but generally the name of the board suggests a fundamental misunderstanding as to whom is being held to account by the RSCs: it is not the executive of the school, but the Board of Trustees whose performance is under scrutiny. We suggest that the qualities needed to lead an outstanding school as a headteacher are not exactly the same as those required to diagnose the governance capacity or the suitability of a MAT to take on another failing school.

12. We believe that some of the poor decisions that DfE took to allow academy chains to expand, including notoriously Park View Academy Trust, but also many other less high profile ones, were due in part to lack of proper regard to governance.  Our case work clearly shows that many MATs themselves do not fully understand the role and responsibilities of the different layers of governance.  Schemes of delegation are often poor or although the DfE, in particular through the Academies Financial Handbook, has now required them, they still seem to be non-existent in some MATs. Our intelligence on this is supported by others who have experience of advising academy trustees, such as Governorline.

13. Since 2013 Ofsted have carried out inspections of Local Authority School Improvement services. If some of these functions are to be carried out by RSCs, we would expect transparent arrangements for inspecting their effectiveness to be put in place.

Transparency & consultation:

14. NGA has always accepted that governing bodies who have clearly failed to govern effectively (for example by leading their schools into special measures) should be removed; however the powers being given to the Secretary of State and her agents in this bill are so wide-ranging that we are not convinced that governing bodies will only be replaced when they are ineffective, but perhaps also where they disagree with immediate conversion to academy status or the Secretary of State’s proposed sponsor for sound reasons. We seek assurances from the Secretary of State that evidence will be provided of ineffective governance before an IEB is installed, especially as Clause 2 removes the governing body’s right to make representations.

15. In 2010 the NGA lobbied for and was pleased to see the inclusion of the requirement to consult parents, pupils, and staff on the decision to change the status of the school. The draft bill removes this requirement if a school is eligible for intervention and subject to an academy order. We accept in clear-cut situations, school improvement should not be delayed, but in the interests of transparency, NGA suggests that the case of an academy order over and above other forms of interventions, in particular an IEB, should be made public.

16. Consultation on the choice of sponsor for a school subject to an academy order is vital. The bill will require governing bodies whose schools are eligible for intervention to enter into sponsored academy arrangements if instructed to do so by the Secretary of State, including with particular sponsors. NGA suggests that rather than direct a governing body to make a particular decision, the Secretary of State should act to ensure each school has robust governance arrangements, including where necessary by replacing them with an IEB. The selection of an academy sponsor is a critical strategic decision and NGA is of the view that, where there is capacity and capability in the governance arrangements, this decision should remain with the governing board. Otherwise the governing board has been prevented from carrying out one of its three core functions as set out by the Department’s Governors’ Handbook (January 2015).

17. Following conversion, it is the sponsor who will assume responsibility for the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school through the governance arrangements of the multi-academy trust. This ethos may not be the same as the original ethos of the school and for the Secretary of State and her agents to impose a particular sponsor without consulting the parents who made the decision to send their children to the school based on its original ethos would seem counter to the policy of increasing choice in the system.

18. The bill’s proposals contradict the statement of the Secretary of State, who for example when speaking at the Sunday Times Festival of Education on Thursday 18 June said "It’s not the fact of being a free school or an academy that leads to this excellence. Rather, it’s what being an academy or a free school stands for. Freeing up schools and governors to make decisions that are right for their pupils." By giving the Secretary of State power to make decisions regarding school structure and choice of sponsor, the draft bill removes the freedoms of schools and governors to make the decision which are "right for their pupils".

June 2015


[1] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeduc/258/258.pdf

[2] Ofsted (2011) Leadership of more than one school: An evaluation of the impact of federated schools. London: Ofsted

[3] Howarth E (2013) The road to federation: Governing bodies that consider joining federations and multi-academy trusts. Birmingham: National Governors’ Association; Howarth E (2015) Governing bodies that consider joining or creating federations. Management in Education 29(1): 20–24

[4] From analysis of Ofsted Monthly management information: Ofsted's school inspections outcomes: Management information - schools - 2 April 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/monthly-management-information-ofsteds-school-inspections-outcomes

[5] http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/03/halted-academy-chains-background-on-five-more/

[6] http://www.nao.org.uk/report/academies-and-maintained-schools-oversight-and-intervention/

[7] NAO 2014/10/Academies-and-maintained-schools-Oversight-and-intervention.pdf para 3.16 – 3.19

Prepared 14th July 2015