60.RSCs are each supported directly by between six and seven other civil servants. Several of the RSCs we questioned indicated that this small number was sufficient to discharge their current responsibilities; Pank Patel (RSC, West Midlands) explained that, although his team was “a small office-based group in Coventry”, he was able to call upon DfE staff in the academies group and the Education Funding Agency. He described this as a “huge resource at his disposal”, and added that “My own Headteacher Board also increases my capacity. A whole range of people works on my behalf and with me”.
61.Given the expected expansion of the RSCs’ remit, Lord Nash advised us the DfE has “a plan to resource up the Regional Schools Commissioners quite substantially over the course of the next year”.
62.The DfE provided us with data on the size of caseload in the RSC regions, in terms of the number of academies rated Inadequate by Ofsted, showing that on average there were around 2,600 open state schools in each RSC region and that 2–3% of those inspected had been rated inadequate.
63.Frank Green told us that the number of “coasting” schools (as proposed by the Education and Adoption Bill) was unlikely to be large: DfE modelling suggested that there might be just “a few hundred schools” in the coasting category. Nevertheless, a recent report by NFER attempted to estimate the number of ‘coasting’ schools that the RSCs will need to tackle if the Education and Adoption Bill becomes law, and combined this with the number of primary and secondary schools below the floor level to produce a total number of schools requiring action; this provides an indication of how the caseload for the RSCs may change.
Figure 5: NFER estimates of RSC caseloads, including ‘coasting’ schools
Source: NFER, A Guide to Regional Schools Commissioners, p8
64.Several submissions to our inquiry suggested that a team of Deputy RSCs may be a necessary response to the increased remit, while others saw this as further justification for subdividing the regions and creating a larger number of RSCs.
65.The DfE told us that the RSCs “are also supported in their work by expert educational advisers who are contracted by the Department to work with individual schools”. The London Diocesan Board for Schools was highly complimentary about the work of these advisers:
The most valuable benefit we have received from the advent of RSCs has been the quality of the advisers which the RSCs employ to visit schools; whilst the purpose of the visits are to provide detailed reports for the RSCs, the advisers also impart advice and actions for the school and sponsors which can be acted on. In our view it is essential that there should be adequate budgetary provision for these impartial high quality advisers. The employment of high quality advisers who have a strong and practical focus on raising standards will ensure that the RSCs can fulfil their role.
66.In August 2015 the DfE issued a £12m tender for specialist contractors to “support the Academies and Free Schools Programme and help deliver the Department’s aim to ensure high educational standards […] and to secure sponsorship arrangements for maintained schools moving to academy status”. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) attributed this contracting process to a “lack of capacity” within the RSCs. The Department subsequently provided us with a list of 93 contractors, some of whom “deploy multiple individual advisers”. This gives the DfE “a pool of over 400 advisers from which to select the best person for the job”.
67.The “specialist contractors” appointed recently to support the academies and free schools programme are an important part of the school improvement system. We recommend that the Government review the amount of information currently in the public domain about their identity, appointment, work, monitoring and impact, with a view to improving transparency.
68.Some witnesses suggested that it would be more efficient for RSCs to focus on building relationships and working through others as their remit and caseload expanded, rather than accumulating additional resource themselves. Dominic Herrington speculated that if the number of academies were to grow further, the RSCs would “work more with multi-academy trusts and the trust unit, and perhaps less the individual schools”, noting that in his RSC region 63% of academies were are in a multi-academy trust.
69.During our visit to Coventry we were particularly taken by the description of the RSC’s working relationship with the Teaching Schools Council as a means of identifying suitable responses to problems identified by the Commissioner. Pank Patel told us that he relied “very much on Teaching Schools Council to implement NLEs, SLE, LLEs [National, Specialist, and Local Leaders of Education] in schools that need it”. He explained how he worked with the Teaching Schools Council in his region:
I said [to the TSC contact], ‘This is the intervention I need. I need it now. What can you do to try to help out with providing me with a national leader of education who can work on this? You have the framework. You have those people who are available in that area. This is the skillset I require. Come back to me on it’, and he has done. We have been able to implement that person in that school within days.
70.The expanding remit and caseload for RSCs should prompt an increased emphasis on working through others to secure school improvement. We welcome the DfE’s commitment to providing greater resource to the RSCs, but are not yet convinced of the case for a significant increase in expenditure on the RSC offices themselves. Instead, the Department should consider whether the partners that the RSCs must work with to secure school improvement, such as Teaching Schools, have sufficient capacity to respond to their requests.
115 , 22 June 2015
119 Department for Education () Annexes A1–A3, based on Ofsted management information at 31 July 2015
122 For instance, Ian Bauckham () para 2.1, The Education Foundation and Sheffield Institute of Education (), Northamptonshire County Council () para 1.6
123 For instance, Russell Hobby Q10
124 Department for Education () para 12
125 London Diocesan Board for Schools () para 11
126 , gov.uk, accessed 7 January 2016
127 Association of Teachers and Lecturers () para 3
128 Department for Education () para 30
129 For instance, Jon Coles Q57, Kent County Council () para 2.2
Prepared 18 January 2016