The first Friday in December is a strange time to advertise eight top jobs in education. At this time of year either the employer is in a tearing hurry to make the appointments or the likely candidates have already been handpicked and by advertising when few candidates are job hunting the field can be appropriately small. I assume the DfE’s adverts for eight School Commissioners, each responsible for a region of the country, falls into the former category of advert.
The creation of these School Commissioner posts, and that of the overall national school commissioner, is the next step on the road to the full ‘nationalisation’ of the school system in England. Although these Commissioners are initially only to have oversight of academies and free schools, and presumably UTCS and Studio Schools as forms of academy, it would be an easy step for parliament to add maintained schools to their brief, thus finally depriving local authorities of any oversight of the school system after more than a century in some form of control.
I wrote earlier this year that I could understand such a system for the secondary school sector, but am apprehensive once central government control is extended to the primary sector. Most primary schools are essentially local in nature serving their local communities, and remote decision-making is not a good idea. The region that contains all the primary schools in Oxfordshire also stretches to include primary schools in Hackney and Haringey. The needs of schools such as Bruce Grove Primary in Tottenham and Buckland Primary in Oxfordshire would test any organisation, as we have seen when Oxfordshire managed to apparently overlook the poor performance of Oxford City’s primary schools a few years ago.
What is more alarming is that there has been little or no discussion about the change in control of schools with those most involved. At present, Oxfordshire is deep into a consultation, its second this year, on changes to home to school transport policy. But, the DfE doesn’t seem to have consulted before creating these new posts. Indeed, it doesn’t even seem to have bothered to tell MPs at Westminster.
There is also an assumption in the adverts that heads, assisted by a board of six other heads elected by their peers, will create the best management tier. Now there are many other capable people in and around the education scene that might want to apply, and I hope that they won’t be excluded if these posts do go ahead. Fortunately, being past current pensionable age, I can rule out self-interest in making that comment.
I don’t know what the churches will make of this change since many faith schools are now academies. Will they want one of the six person board to be from a faith-based schools. And what of the governors: how will they relate to the activities? Governors are key players on School Forums – will the power of that body now be diminished in favour of dictats from the Commissioner’s Office. The Daily Mail reported today that Bob Russell, a Lib Dem MP, held a surgery that lasted twelve hours: a record. Add in responsibility for schools, and who knows how long it might last?