The role of Regional Schools Commissioners Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.It is clear to us that RSCs were introduced as a response to the need to ensure appropriate oversight for the growing number of academies, and that the schools landscape is continuing to evolve. As such, oversight will need to develop further with it. For now our starting point is that the introduction of RSCs is a pragmatic approach to managing the growing task of overseeing academies. Once the mix of school structures becomes more stable a fundamental reassessment will be required. (Paragraph 10)

The responsibilities of Regional Schools Commissioners

2.The existing description of the role of the national Schools Commissioner is nebulous and does not make clear what is required from the position. We recommend that the Government sets out more clearly the role of the national Schools Commissioner and how it relates to the expanding role of the RSCs. Given the significance of the role of the national Schools Commissioner, we would expect to hold a hearing with the new appointee at an early date. The Government should discuss with us adding the position to the list of public appointments subject to pre-appointment hearings. (Paragraph 18)

3.RSCs occupy an increasingly powerful position in the education system, but their responsibilities in relation to other components of the system remain unclear to many of our witnesses. The landscape of oversight, intervention, inspection and accountability is now complex and difficult for many of those involved in education, not least parents, to navigate. We recommend that the Government reflect on the need to improve understanding of the role of the RSCs. (Paragraph 23)

4.The Government should clarify the division of responsibilities between RSCs, local authorities, and Ofsted—including in relation to safeguarding—in a way that is comprehensible to schools and parents. (Paragraph 27)

5.We have received evidence that there is too much variation in the approach that RSCs take to their work and the standards they apply. RSCs should be identifying local challenges that impede school improvement so that these issues can be addressed; they must not demand or expect different standards in different regions. (Paragraph 33)

6.We recommend that the Government ensure a greater level of consistency in the work of RSCs, and explicitly include responsibility for co-ordination and consistency of standards in the job description for the national Schools Commissioner. We expect the national Schools Commissioner to report to us on how a greater level of consistency will be achieved. (Paragraph 34)

7.RSCs should publish their vision, workplans and priorities for their region, and seek input and buy-in to them from all relevant stakeholders. (Paragraph 37)

8.The knowledge and skills needed to perform the role of RSC are considerable. The RSC system therefore relies heavily on identifying the right people to take on the role, and on the future supply of such system leaders. There is a need to nurture potential future RSCs to undertake the role. (Paragraph 40)

The future of the role

9.There has been a gradual expansion of the role of the RSC since September 2014, and it is the Government’s ambition for all schools to become academies. This implies a significant increase in the number of institutions for which RSCs are expected to have oversight, which will have implications for capacity and ways of working. The Government will need to monitor the situation closely as it develops, if the intention is for RSCs to become responsible for all schools. (Paragraph 44)

The RSC regions

10.The division of London between three RSCs is unnecessarily disruptive. Good sponsors and expertise can be spread to other regions through co-ordination and co-operation between RSCs, and does not require dividing London in this way.(Paragraph 58)

11.The Government should redesign the RSC regions so that they are coterminous with Ofsted regions, which itself is based on the previous system of nine Government Office Regions. This will include creating an RSC for London, and therefore increasing the number of RSCs by one. This will help with capacity in the short term. For the longer term, the Government should keep the design of the regions under review as the system develops, in order to take account of further growth of the academy sector and any future devolution to areas such as Greater Manchester, which may also require a dedicated RSC in due course. (Paragraph 59)

Capacity to fulfil their role

12.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. (Paragraph 67)

13.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. (Paragraph 70)

Headteacher Boards

14.There is currently confusion about the role of the Headteacher Boards, including whether they are decision-making bodies or purely a source of advice for the RSC. The Department for Education must clarify this, as it is a crucial component of ensuring there is suitable accountability for decisions made. We recommend that the Boards be re-designated as RSC Advisory Boards, to make it clear that the role of the Board is to provide advice to inform RSC decisions, rather than a mechanism for local accountability or to make decisions itself. The re-designation would also make clear that membership is not restricted to headteachers, given the existing scope for appointments and co-options. (Paragraph 83)

15.The ‘mixed economy’ of elected and appointed members of the Headteacher Board should be retained. However the Government must ensure that the guidelines on making and managing public appointments are followed; RSCs should develop an explicit skills profile when recruiting individuals to appoint or co-opt to the Board, and use this to identify candidates. If the remit of the RSCs expands in the way proposed in the Education and Adoption Bill, headteachers of similarly high-performing LA-maintained schools should be eligible for election, appointment or co-option in the same way as academy heads, and should be able to vote in Board member elections. (Paragraph 84)

16.The Government should ensure that the appointment terms for the Headteacher Boards allow for phased turnover rather than change all at once. (Paragraph 86)

Impact

17.The Government’s review of Key Performance Indicators for RSCs should ensure that the KPIs do not prejudice the decisions made on academisation and changes of sponsor. In particular, we recommend that KPI 3(i) relating to the proportion of schools that are academies, should be removed on the grounds that it constitutes a conflict of interest. (Paragraph 92)

18.It is troubling that the DfE struggled to provide us with data on the performance of RSCs, given that KPIs were referred to throughout our inquiry and the Department’s written evidence. In particular, the lack of data for KPIs 5–7 undermines the Department’s claim that the impact of RSCs is being monitored and that RSCs are being held to account internally. The Government should produce an annual report on the work of RSCs, showing each RSC’s performance against all of their (revised) KPIs and their targets, and should undertake to publish online regular performance monitoring information as it is available. This is an important part of improving the transparency and accountability of RSCs. (Paragraph 96)

19.The impact of RSCs should be considered in terms of the improvement in young people’s education and outcomes, rather than merely the volume of structural changes introduced or other levels of activity. This approach would mirror the way in which the effectiveness of local authorities is measured, such as the number of children attending Good or Outstanding schools, and would increase confidence in the work of RSCs. (Paragraph 101)

Accountability and transparency

20.While we recognise that there are strong reasons for Regional Schools Commissioners to have been appointed as civil servants, they have responsibilities and powers that extend beyond the scope of many other civil service roles. We believe their level of operational autonomy makes them a candidate for a more direct form of accountability than would be the case for other senior civil servants, and we recommend that the Government consider further what forms that accountability might take. In doing so, the Government should define the extent of the operational autonomy that RSCs have. (Paragraph 105)

21.We also recognise the ultimate responsibility of the Secretary of State and her ministers for work carried out in the Department’s name. As the House of Commons Education Committee, we form part of the mechanism for holding Ministers to account. As a result, Ministers should also expect to appear before us to be held responsible for the decision RSCs make in their name. (Paragraph 106)

22.There is a paucity of useful information available online about the work of Headteacher Boards, and this undermines a promising component of the RSC system. We welcome the DfE’s commitment to publishing more detailed minutes of Board meetings, in order to provide confidence in the nature of the advice given and to minimise the risk of impropriety. We further recommend that the DfE publish decision-making frameworks for RSCs to aid consistency of approach and transparency. This will allow RSC decisions to be made and recorded in a transparent way, with a rationale for each provided in reference to the published decision-making framework. (Paragraph 116)

Relationships with other stakeholders

23.The Government should publish a protocol for interaction between RSCs and local authorities to ensure that there is a shared understanding of roles. This should also set out expectations for information-sharing between RSCs, local authorities, and MATs. (Paragraph 122)

24.We would hope that our recommendation for matching the RSC regions with Ofsted’s regional structure will ensure that effective working relationships are established in every case. (Paragraph 124)

25.To increase confidence in the work of RSCs, a formal complaint and whistleblowing procedure should be established to provide a means for decisions to be challenged or reviewed. (Paragraph 129)

26.We recommend that Ofsted and the national Schools Commissioner consider further how they could ensure that RSC and Ofsted visits to schools are coordinated and do not create an unnecessary burden on schools. Further, they should ensure that schools are clear about the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits. (Paragraph 133)

27.There is variation between regions in the level of meaningful consultation undertaken with local communities. We recommend that good practice is shared and standardised, to ensure that the effect of decision on a broad range of stakeholders is considered. (Paragraph 137)




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 18 January 2016