Measuring the effect of interventions in schools is a real challenge. The DfE have today issued a research report entitled, Formal school interventions in England: cost and effectiveness. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/formal-school-interventions-in-england-cost-and-effectiveness The report is in response to a recommendation made by the Public Accounts Committee of parliament in 2015.
Reading the report it quickly becomes clear shows how difficult it is to understand what might work to improve schools judged to be at the end of the scale where an intervention is needed. There may be other schools that don’t reach that stage, where local authorities, diocese, MATs or others intervened when there was the first signs of evidence of a deterioration in the learning outcomes for the pupils in the school. Other schools may continue without intervention until an Ofsted inspection.
The DfE paper looks at three types of intervention; becoming a sponsored academy; establishing an Interim Executive Board and the issue of a warning notice. The last of these is by far the cheapest and the first, likely to be the most expensive. However, as more MATs have been established, transferring schools into an existing MAT may reduce in cost compared with creating a new sponsored academy, as was the original idea at the time when the Labour government first created academies. This was after their foray into Education Action Zones as a means of school improvement.
Although according to the DfE report, schools with interventions produced improvements in the following year, in terms of headline attainment outcomes for key stages 2 and 4, the DfE report recognises the difficulty of finding comparator schools to compare the improvement with. Do under-performing schools just revert to the mean?
Personally, I think there are two broad groups of under-performing schools: those where standards have slipped for an identifiable reason and those where there are deep-seated underlying issues with the school. To use a sporting analogy. A manager offered a job with a football club with the aim of avoiding relegation has to decide whether the team is fundamentally good, but hasn’t worked together as a unit or just aren’t good enough to play in their current league.
Now, with schools, is it a good school where something has gone wrong or one with serious issues. The first might react to a notice to improve, the second might need extra funding, new buildings, a new leadership team and a serious analysis of the factors affecting underperformance. In the present governance climate who should carry out this role. I favour a role for local authorities if only because they offer a degree of continuity not available elsewhere at present. But, I suppose Regional School Commissioner’s offices could carry out the same function or delegate it to MATs. However, they wouldn’t have the same links to other local services that might be important in some cases.
Whatever route one selects, improving schools must still be the aim for our system of education. We cannot rest until every child attends a school that allows them to achieve their full potential.