Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) were introduced as a pragmatic response to the need to ensure appropriate oversight of a growing number of academies. There is a clear need for an intermediate structure between Whitehall and individual schools, and RSCs are beginning to provide this. However, the schools landscape—and the role of the RSCs—is continuing to evolve, and the RSCs now form part of an increasingly complicated system of oversight, accountability and inspection. A more fundamental reassessment of accountability and oversight for all schools will be required in the future to provide coherence.
In the meantime, the relationships that RSCs build with other components of this system, including local authorities, Ofsted, teaching schools, and parents and local communities, are crucial to securing impact on school improvement. An emphasis on working with and through these key partners will help ensure that RSCs have the capacity to cope with planned expansion of their role. However, the role of RSCs remains unclear to many and this must be addressed for effective relationships to be formed.
It is clear that RSCs are working hard to improve schools, but there is a need to improve confidence in their work in several ways. The level of operational autonomy of RSCs necessitates a more direct form of accountability than would otherwise be the case for Senior Civil Servants. There is also a lack of transparency in the way the RSCs operate, and decision making frameworks need to be published to address this.
We welcome the Government’s plans to increase the amount of information provided in Headteacher Board minutes, but there is currently confusion about the role of the Board itself, and this must be addressed. Without attention to these issues, the RSC system will be seen as undemocratic and opaque, and the Government must ensure that such concerns are acted on.
The strength of the RSC model is in its regionalisation, but there is a corresponding risk that inconsistencies in approach and differences in standards applied will diminish confidence in the system. The National Schools Commissioner must have a formal role in ensuring appropriate levels of consistency between the RSCs, and in sharing best practice between them.
The design of the regions themselves is a barrier to effective operation, and in particular the division of London between three regions creates more problems than benefits. RSC regions should match the Ofsted regions, which will include creating a single RSC for London. The size and design of the regions should be kept under review in the context of future devolution to city areas, and further expansion of the RSCs’ caseloads.
The impact of RSCs should be measured in terms of improvements in outcomes for young people, rather than merely the volume of activity. We welcome the Government’s intention to review the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the RSCs. This should be done to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are eliminated, and to provide assurance that RSC decisions are made in the interests of school improvement rather than to fulfil specific targets for the number of academies. We recommend that the Government report regularly on the performance of RSCs against the new KPIs.
Prepared 18 January 2016