The role of Regional Schools Commissioners – expert reaction to Education Select Committee report

Following their inquiry, the Education Select Committee have published a report into ‘The role of Regional Schools Commissioners.’

Regional Schools Commissioners, first appointed in 2014, are responsible for overseeing academies, approving new free schools and those under-performing local authority schools converting to academy status.

The Committee has looked at issues around expanding the role of the RSCs, their resources, capacity, impact and accountability.

Dr. Melanie Ehren, Reader in Educational Accountability and Improvement, UCL Institute of Education, has researched the role of the RSCs and accountability. Here are her findings (in summary and below are links to the full versions of her research):

“Accountability of free schools and academies is developing into a complex, multi-layered system that is different from the accountability system for maintained schools. We have seen how different agencies, such as Ofsted, the RSCs, the Education Funding Agency and local authorities set different standards on school quality and performance and have different arrangements and interventions in place to monitor and improve school quality, and hold academies and free schools to account.

Some of these arrangements (such as section 5 and 8 Ofsted inspections) address the quality of individual schools, while others (such as focused inspections) address the collaboration between schools and the functioning of the trust.

There are three issues that need to be addressed to improve the current system of accountability and oversight of free schools and academies.

1. The first issue is an observation that we have a very dispersed system where free schools and academies are faced with different accountability arrangements compared to maintained schools.

There are some clear issues with a lack of transparency in the current system.

To name just a few:

  • a lack in clarity about how RSCs make decisions on sponsorship of academies and their criteria for reviewing and renewing funding agreements,
  • a lack of transparency in how they monitor schools and the intervention ladders they use to motivate academies and free schools to improve,
  • a lack of a clear process that would allow schools to leave an academy chain, and
  • a lack of transparency regarding which MAT or federation gets a focused inspection and the lack of framework to inform such inspections

2. The second issue is the lack of local oversight and accountability of free schools and academies.

The Regional Schools Commissioners were set up to ensure such local oversight and accountability, but their work is still largely informed by Ofsted and performance data, making the current accountability system one that is still a very centralized one with little local flavour. A recent House of Commons report confirms this, saying that the unified Ofsted regime and performance data have resulted in free schools and academies that make limited use of their freedoms. So we may have an accountability system that promotes consistency and coherence in the standards schools are working towards, but stimulating very little innovation, variety and adaptation to the local context.

3. Finally we can see how the current accountability system is still very much predicated on the accountability of single schools, with little attention to what a chain of schools as a whole achieves, or the position of schools within the chain. The current regime of focused inspections, section 5 and 8 inspections primarily looks at school to school support, and trust to school support, but does not monitor the functioning of the trust, or ask schools how they contribute to network-level outcomes such as a good transition of students from primary to secondary schools in the trust, or the contribution of the chains to meeting local area needs.”

More on this by Melanie Ehren can be seen here:

http://www.schoolinspections.eu/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2015/10/Blog-Ehren-Ofsted-and-the-Regional-Schools-Commissioners.pdf

and here:

http://www.schoolinspections.eu/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2015/11/The-future-of-accountability-of-free-schools-and-academies.pdf

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