Urgent action needed

The following are extracts from a Section 8 monitoring report issued today by Ofsted. The school, a secondary school, is part of a multi-academy company and was declared inadequate in May last year by Ofsted. Somewhat surprisingly, Ofsted didn’t return until January 2018.  When they did, they found some good things within the school and some improvements, but to quote for the S8 report:

Although there have been undeniable improvements to safeguarding, behaviour and morale of staff, there are considerable weaknesses at the level of governance and the multi-academy company. These weaknesses have the potential to put the good work of school staff and the pace of improvement in jeopardy.

 However, following the review, the XXMAC and governing body have been slow to improve their effectiveness. It is understandable that directors’ decisions about senior leadership are sensitive, but other statutory duties of the governing body and the company have been neglected (my emphasis)

 Directors and governors have not taken enough responsibility for ensuring that leaders strategically map out the key priorities for iimproving the school. Nor have directors and governors demonstrated how they will evaluate improvements by their impact on pupils’ progress, attendance and behaviour. In short, it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not. (my emphasis)

 In addition, XXMAC and governors have not done enough to maintain good levels of communication with parents or involve them more closely in the school’s drive for improvement. In this way, leaders at the highest level are not directly helping to restore the school’s reputation in the local community. 

 This haphazard approach is not helping pupils to achieve their full potential. 

 There is no clear strategy in the school improvement plan for reducing casual and persistent absence. Good attendance is not a high enough priority in the school. 

 However, the support commissioned by the XXMAC is not sufficient to build capacity and establish a common sense of purpose for the school. For example, important decisions about leaders’ roles and the priorities for the future are not being made on the basis of a thorough review of the school’s performance. Instead, decisions are being made on an ad hoc basis, relying upon the goodwill and integrity of current school leaders.

 So, where do we go from here? The previous Chief Inspector was right to argue for inspection of MATs and MACs. Who now takes responsibility for acting upon this damming report; The Regional School Commissioner; the Funding and Skills Council; Ofsted or the Secretary of State? The local authority cannot do so, but someone should be take action by Monday, especially as the school is also still in financial special measures and there were issues raised in the 2017 accounts about the management of financial matters.

If ‘it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not.’ Then such a situation must not be allowed to continue. Action this day please.

 

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Deeds not words please, Mr Hinds

So, the new Secretary of State has proclaimed his support for faith schools. Not surprising in view of his own education. Well, here is a challenge to Mr Hinds. Will he separate out schools run by faith groups with public money, but attended by a majority not professing the faith actively, and those schools run by the faith for their adherents?

The Church of England has long operated primary schools as the local schools for the village or community the school serves. As a national church and also the provider of education in many of these areas before the State became involved this has some rationale behind it. Parents in general value these schools, although many may be under threat from the new National Funding Formula unless enough attention is paid to their fortunes.

My question to the Secretary of State can be crystallised around the experiences of the Roman Catholic secondary school in East Oxford: St Gregory the Great. This school, according to the accounts of the Academy Company it is a part of, had only 30% professing Catholic Staff and 37% of its pupils as Catholics at the reporting point for the 2017 accounts. Two years ago, the school was put into financial special measures by the EFSC; last year Ofsted declared it inadequate. Another school run by the same Academy Company has recently also been declared inadequate. This week, when Ofsted paid a monitoring visit to St Gregory the Great, they will have found a school where the head and a deputy were removed at the end of the autumn term and another head placed in executive control from a different Catholic Academy Trust. So, Mr Hinds, how long do you give St Gregory the Great to improve and what are your plans if the Catholic Church cannot improve the school? The parents of non-Catholic pupils have a right to know what you are going to do to improve the education of their children. Will it have access to part of your £45 million fund?

You cannot blame the local authority. Indeed, you can look at the steps the local authority took to deal with another secondary school in the county declared inadequate at the same time as St Gregory the Great (see blog post, https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/a-tale-of-two-schools/) The outcomes seem to be very different. Can the local authority access your fund as part of helping schools improve if no MAT volunteers to do so?

Mr Hinds, St Gregory the Great and the future of the Academy Company it belongs to, provide an early test of whether what you say in The Times newspaper are words not backed by actions or have the force of someone prepared to act on their beliefs.

I am passionate to see good education for all children in Oxfordshire. I hope you will help me achieve this aim by acting swiftly to raise standards at St Gregory the Great. By your actions shall you be known. A Minister of Education in the 1940s once intervened because a school wasn’t holding a daily assembly, despite its hall having been bombed and out of use. Intervene in St Gregory and reassure everyone the plan for improvement is workable. You can have the Ofsted report on your desk by Monday if you ask for it following their monitoring visit this week.

 

 

Another Oxford issue

Earlier this week the eyes of the country were on Oxford because of the story about issues with cancer treatments at the Churchill Hospital, the regional oncology centre. Locally, the Oxford Mail, the City’s daily newspaper, had at front page lead with concerns around one of the secondary schools in the city, St Gregory the Great.

Regular readers of this blog will recall a post about ‘a tale of two schools’ from last autumn. St Gregory the Great is a an all-through school under the auspices of a Roman Catholic Multi Academy Company, called the Dominic Barberi MAC. This is a group of Roman Catholic academies in Oxfordshire, of which St Gregory is the only secondary school. It might be described as the classic pyramid model of a MAT.

St Gregory the Great came into being when Oxfordshire remodelled the previous three tier system in the city into a conventional two-tier system in the late 1990s. A ecumenical upper school, St Augustine, was replaced, after heavy lobbying of the then School Organisation Committee by the Roman Catholic Church, with a Roman Catholic secondary school; St Gregory the Great.

For the first decade, the school lived an untroubled life, serving both Roman Catholics pupils and local children whose parents were willing to send them to the school. Problems started with the move towards academisation. The need for more primary provision in that part of Oxford meant a decision to create an all-through school with a new primary department. This resulted in a financial disaster when the school overestimated the funds it would receive from changing its age range. At the same time, absence rates in the secondary school were on the increase, and during a period of falling rolls, the school was not the top choice of schools within Oxford for many parents.

Eventually, in 2016, the government’s Funding Agency put the school in special measures and required a plan to eradicate the deficit. The head teacher was replaced. Eighteen months later the school was declared inadequate by Ofsted. Since then further problems have emerged. Many are of a longstanding nature.

In June 2014, I received the following response to a question at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet about attendance cross the county.

Supplementary:  Responding to a question on whether the Cabinet member would make representations to the school commissioner and Ofsted as to the very high non-attendance at St. Gregory the great school, Councillor Tilley replied that the School Improvement officer had been sent into the school to try and establish the underlying cause of the high absence rate.  She had further requested that an analysis of poor attendance be undertaken on a class by class and year by year basis. This has been successful in improving attendance in the past.  Should this not improve attendance, she would then consider contacting Ofsted?

Attendance fell in 2016-17 (Trust Annual Accounts, page 23) and remains a key issue for the school.

I want to see this school succeed, because it is needed for the pupils of East Oxford, whether Roman Catholics, pupils of other faiths or those of no faith.

However, it isn’t clear that the present system of governance is working. Who has the lead responsibility of turning around academies that are failing?

The regional School Commissioner – no obvious action on his part or interest from the Headteacher Board; the EFSC – since putting the school in special measures it hasn’t cured the ills of the Trust, just cut the deficit at the school and possibly imperilled the education of many pupils as a result?  Indeed the Trust accounts for 2017 point to procurement issues; lack of supporting receipts on credit card expenditure and a lack of timely bank reconciliations and insufficient evidence of review. (Trust Annual Accounts, page 32)

Ofsted – a second school in the Trust has now been declared inadequate, but Ofsted is powerless to act against the Trust as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church – the Church needs to prove it is concerned for the welfare and education of all pupils and is not trying to create a school only for Roman Catholic pupils with no concerns for the other pupils in the area leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. The recent removal of the head and deputy of the school over the Christmas holidays needs to be justified and an explanation as to the experience and expertise of their replacements to deal with the problems facing the school needs to be made clear.

The DfE has issued a statement to the media today saying that they are taking action, but it isn’t clear what they are doing or how they are operating, other than presumably some behind closed door discussions with the Academy Company and presumably the Diocese of Birmingham.

At the heart of this mess is the governance structure for academies and the ability of a Trust to act appropriately for the good of all. After all, only 37% of pupils and 30% of staff at St Gregory the Great are declared Roman Catholics according to the Trust annual accounts (page 21).

I declare an interest as a councillor in Oxfordshire, but one only has to look at the fortunes of the two secondary schools declared inadequate in 2017 by Ofsted for the issues to become glaringly apparent.

As the new Secretary of State was educated in a Roman Catholic school, he needs to tell his officials to sort out the problems at St Gregory the Great and across the school group. Otherwise, Oxford will have two national disaster stories about public service failures at the same time: not a record to be proud of for any government.

 

 

 

Time for action

Burnt out teachers in struggling schools where nobody has the long-term strategic responsibility for improvement. That’s what I take from the headlines about the Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman’s first annual report. Apparently, there are about 100 schools which have not reached “good” status in inspections since 2005.

None of this is news; none of it is unknown. Indeed, one might ask whether politicians of all Parties have created barriers to overcoming this situation. The two parallel systems of maintained schools and academies, created since Mr Gove’s revolution, have not led to a system of oversight that allows meaningful discussion on how to deal with the schools that need the most support.

Labour now plans a National Education Service, on the lines of the National Health Service, without explaining where any extra funding for improvement will come from. As readers of this blog know, the cost of just the minor changes the government are making to student funding is going to cost £800 million according to the Budget Red Book. That doesn’t leave much for schools and early years. The Conservatives having failed with a system to encourage teachers to work in challenging schools are now trying Opportunity Areas, a scheme seemingly not dis-similar to Labour’s Education Action Zones of the late 1990s.

Nowhere yet at Westminster does there seem to be a recognition of the need to re-energise local democracy into taking an interest in developing and improving education services. If you believe services such as schooling should be subject to democratic oversight, then that surely requires a coherent form of local government backed by Westminster retaining oversight for strategic matters and with the power to intervene should local government prove not up to the task. Central government will also have to bear the funding of schools, but must recognise that sending all the cash to schools is not the right way to either create economies of scale or aid schools that need help from time to time.

What the government at Westminster can do is end the era of schools competing with one another. All state funded schools are part of the same enterprise: the development of learning for all our children. We do need to work together for the common good and not just for the good of the school. If burnout is a real issue for those working in some schools then managed moves for teachers and periods away from the classroom may be necessary. This is challenging when schools in MATs are spread geographically long distances apart and downright impossible when maintained schools cannot fund such a system under the present rules.

Then there is the growing practice of putting secondary deputies into primary schools, either directly as heads or to work alongside heads. Dioceses can do this with their schools, as can MATs, but it is difficult to see how maintained schools can create effective systems without overall control. These are but two examples of why the present system won’t tackle the concerns of the Chief Inspector.

The time has come to end the present unworkable governance system in schools and return to a common framework with a single purpose: every school a good school.

A tale of two schools

Earlier this year Ofsted rated two secondary schools in the same county as inadequate. Their inspection reports are on the Ofsted website. One school was a community school; the other an academy. What happened next?

As a community school, the local authority was required to undertake an exercise about the future of the school, including the option of closing it. Whatever the outcome, the school would become an academy. As this happened just after the county council elections in May, the new Cabinet Member swung into action, working closely with officers to assist the school with its own recovery plan. There was a rapid change of head teacher and a general tightening up of standards and procedures. At the same time, a search was instigated for a nearby-by school that could partner the school as an academy in a multi-academy trust. With goodwill all round, the school looks set on a good future with the local community and parents backing its continued existence. Whether making the school an academy is helpful only time will tell.

The other secondary school is a faith school that is already an academy. It sits in a multi-academy trust with a number of primary schools of the same faith. Eighteen months ago it was placed into financial special measures as a result of misunderstanding about how much money it would receive ahead of changing to an all-through school and starting a primary department. The rules are different for existing school changing age range than for the creation of a new school. The school has had a high number of permanent exclusions, despite being a faith school, and appears to top the list of schools with the largest number of permanent exclusion in the county over a three-year period. Recently it has logged some of the worst GSCE Mathematics results in the provisional totals for 2017 outcomes that appeared in the local press. The school also has a very high percentage of days lost through persistent absenteeism, sufficiently high to place it well into the upper echelons of the national table for such outcomes. The head teacher has, of course changed. As an academy, it is up to the Regional School Commissioner and his Board to decide what to do with the school. The RSC has guidance from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/640916/SCC_guidance.pdf the DfE’s document on guidance on schools causing concern. Chapter 2 deals with academies causing concern. Between May and July there was no record of the relevant Head Teacher Board discussing any performance issues at any school in the region in the minutes of meetings and they also don’t seem to be note Ofsted decisions about academies rated as inadequate at any of their meetings.  They may be reported to sub-boards, but those minutes appear not to be public documents. The RSC has the power to take drastic action, including re-brokering the academy and in extremis effecting its closure. There was no requirement for a public consultation about the future of the school.

So, here we have the two governance systems dealing with the same problem:  a secondary school deemed inadequate. In one case, what happens next takes place in the full glare of publicity; in the other case, behind closed doors, where it is difficult to see if anything happens? It would be interesting to see how many parents have chosen to withdraw their offspring from each school since the Ofsted judgement?

How transparent should these issues be? In the world of local government, schools can less easily hide: in the case of academies, the new system of governance seems far too slanted towards secrecy and a lack of public accountability, let alone public consultation.

Does local democratic control matter in education?

How far has the education map of England become a picture of two nations growing apart? There are many different ways in which you can consider that question. One is to look at the governance structure of state funded schools. How many are still maintained schools of the various types largely linked to the 1944 Education Act and how many are now the product of the Ball/Gove academy revolution? Among selective schools the answer is that almost all are academies; only 23 remain as maintained schools and 10 of these are in Kent. At the other end of the spectrum, London is the only region where free schools, UTCs and studio schools comprise more than 10% of the total of secondary schools and even there it is still only 11%. This is despite the fact that London has probably seem the greatest demand for new secondary school places since 2010. In the North East and East Midlands areas, just four per cent of secondary schools fall into the category of these new types of nationally administered schools free from local democratic oversight.

However, academies are a group have become the dominant governance form for secondary schools, accounting for almost two out of three secondary schools in England. Nevertheless, the percentage is still lower in the north of England and, perhaps more surprisingly, in London and especially Inner London, where 81 of the 185 secondary schools are still local authority maintained comprehensives than in the rest of England.

Of course, just counting schools is a somewhat imprecise measure, since schools do differ in size from small 11-16 schools to large 2,000+ 11-18 or all-through schools. The same is true in the primary sector, where there as some very large schools coping with recent pupil growth, but still many small schools in rural areas. The percentage of schools that are academies or free schools differs from the secondary sector in some regions.

GO REGION PRIMARY ACADEMIES/FREE SCHOOLS ALL PRIMARY % ACADEMIES/FREE SCHOOLS
SW 632 1870 34%
EM 454 1635 28%
YH 466 1785 26%
WM 437 1776 25%
EE 485 1993 24%
L 363 1816 20%
SE 507 2598 20%
NE 155 861 18%
NW 249 2452 10%
ALL SCHOOLS 3748 16786 22%
 

 

     

However, there are fewer primary academies across much of the north of England and in London. The preponderance of Conservative controlled county councils in the south West many account for the relatively high percentage of primary academies in that regional, although it is still only around one in three primary schools, much lower than the percentage in the secondary sector.

As a Lib Dem politician, I wonder whether it is worth testing a campaign in the South West along the lines of ‘return our schools to community democratic oversight’. The membership has never seemingly taken to academies and control from Westminster in the manner that Lib Dem spokespeople and Ministers seem to have done. I am not sure where the present spokesperson stands on this issue?

Such a campaign might also highlight that there is no way back for schools entering MATs. The government may remove them to another MAT and MATs may voluntarily give up or even close a school, but neither the community not the local governors can seemingly force the trustees, those with the real power in a MAT, do so. Like much of the NHS, this is a denial of local democratic involvement in a key public service.

There is, however, one gain from the academy programme, the 140 academies that are selective schools can have their status changed to non-selective schools much more easily than when they were still maintained schools.

 

Do schools employ teachers with QTS?

What can the School Workforce Census tell us about who is teaching in our schools? At the level of the individual school record there is some valuable data that can be mined by researchers looking to answer specific questions such as those in the newly published NfER study research into staffing and the role of MATs. https://www.nfer.ac.uk/about-nfer/media-and-events/being-part-of-multi-academy-trusts-may-help-schools-in-challenging-areas-to-recruit-and-retain-teachers/

Of course, such a study doesn’t discuss the important policy issue of whether schooling should be like the NHS and governed centrally or as they used to be, under local democratic control: parents could eject their local councillor if the schools wasn’t properly funded or performed badly. They are unlikely to eject an MP on the same grounds.

Anyway, the School workforce Census public tables contains a wealth of interesting material. Take the issue of secondary schools employing Qualified Teachers. Excluding trainees and schools such as Farringdon Academy in Oxfordshire, where there appear to be nil returns, most secondary schools employ teachers with QTS.

GOR % of schools  with less than 90% of teachers with  QTS
North East 6%
North West 7%
Yorkshire & Humber 11%
South West 11%
West Midlands 12%
East Midlands 14%
South East 21%
East England 23%
Inner London 24%
Outer London 25%
Oxfordshire 21%

Source DfE School Workforce Census 2016

What do we know of the schools with less than 90% of teachers with QTS.? Many are specific types of school. UTCs and Studio Schools for 14-18 year olds abound in the lists across the country. Then there are specific schools such as the Steiner Schools where teaching and learning outcomes follow a specific pattern, but there are limited teacher preparation courses leading to QTS. There are also schools with a specific religious character of which Jewish and Roman Catholic schools appear most frequently in the list of schools with less than 90% of teachers with QTS.

Schools also differ in their age profiles. There are over 120 secondary schools where more than a third of the teaching staff are over the age of 50 despite the general trend towards a younger teaching force across the system as a whole. These older teachers are less likely to be found in London schools than in some other parts of England.

Male teachers are also becoming rarer in secondary schools, with none of Oxfordshire’s 11-18 secondary schools reporting a gender balance: all have a majority of female teachers, albeit only a small majority in a few cases.  There is no doubt still something of a general imbalance at the Leadership level.

The School Workforce Census also includes some data on vacancies, but with the collection date in November, when most schools are fully staffed, it isn’t anything like as interesting as the TeachVac site that collects vacancy data throughout the year. TeachVac also has extra data on science, design and technology, mathematics and IT vacancies that can be of use to those interested in information about that group of subjects. We can collect the same detailed information on other subjects and leadership posts as well.