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.

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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.

Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.

 

 

 

Why do head teachers leave?

The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.

In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.

The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.

Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.

I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.

Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.

What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.

 

 

Preparation for school teachers is good or outstanding

Ofsted’s latest assessment of the provision of preparation courses for teachers of children of compulsory school age has rated the providers inspected as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-education-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-30-june-2016 Only one primary ITT course, in its final stages of operation, was rated less well on an initial inspect, but had improved when re-inspected later in the year.

Of the primary courses inspected, 45% were rated as ‘outstanding’ and 55% as ‘good’. Secondary courses were rated, 33% outstanding and 67% ‘good. Joint primary/secondary courses were 53% ‘outstanding’ and 47% ‘good’. In view of the challenges some secondary courses face with recruiting trainees, and the consequent issues over funding, this must be regarded as a very satisfactory outcome for the sector.

The data only covers HEIs, SCITTS and for the first time, Teach First. This report doesn’t cover trainees not in a partnership. However, the message for Ministers is that courses preparing primary school teachers are performing well and those preparing secondary teachers are god with some outstanding provision. With the low numbers now on so many secondary courses, this finding is not surprising as it is challenging to create an outstanding provision on limited resources. To that extent, a base number of places larger than allocated to many providers would probably push up the number of outstanding outcomes. Nevertheless, five HEIs, 3 SCITTs and 3 Teach First regions inspected did manage to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating for their secondary provision. The remainder were rates as ‘good’. The overall classification doesn’t identify the classification for individual secondary subjects so, without drilling down into the inspection reports, it is impossible to discover whether certain subjects were more likely to receive ‘outstanding’ ratings than others and, thus, whether the mix of provision affected the outcome for some of the secondary provision.

I am sure that Teach First will be very pleased with the mostly ‘outstanding’ gradings they received this year. However, as a programme it has to demonstrate not only high quality preparation but also rates of retention that do not require additional trainees to be hired to meet a greater than average loss to the profession in the years after obtaining QTS.

The outcomes for the Early Years and FE provision inspected in the past year by Ofsted were more mixed. Apart from one FE provider there was little evidence of ‘outstanding’ provision in these two sectors and some providers were of concern when first inspected, although no inadequate provision was seen in these inspections.

To move any more of the training away from HEIs or SCITTs into other forms of provision really does now need evidence that the provision is not just as good, but is also superior in outcomes to that which it replaces. The limited nature of some HEI and SCITT provision that now remains means that to locate more places away from these providers into schools must only be on the back of evidence that the provision will not be materially affected by any reduction in places available.

Resign

As some readers may know, TeachVac, the free to use recruitment site for schools, teachers, trainees and returners to teaching, has its operational base on the Isle of Wight. I was, therefore, disgusted to read of the comments by the Chair of Ofsted about the islanders. The comments themselves don’t dignify with repeating, but I am firmly of the opinion that Mr Hoare, the Ofsted chairman, having made the remarks at a public event should now do the decent thing and resign in line with the principles of public life he presumably accepted when offered his appointment.

This does not mean that there should be an unwillingness to confront some of the deep-seated issues within schooling on the Island that go back many years. The Tory government in the early 1970s was probably wrong to create a single unitary council for the Island and not instead to enforce closer working with Hampshire or even Dorset. The island may have made an unfortunate choice in opting for the three tier school system when creating a comprehensive school system. It probably fitted the use of buildings best of any system but, along with other councils that opted for such systems, they weren’t to know that changes in the way teachers were trained for secondary schools, away from undergraduate courses and towards a one-year PGCE, may not have helped provide sufficient teachers willing, able, properly trained and motived to work in ‘middle schools’, especially the 9-13 middle schools in use on the Isle of Wight.

These middle schools eventually also faced challenges finding head teachers willing to run what were increasingly isolated pockets of such schools, a fact pointed  out in some of the annual reports that I complied about the leadership market for NAHT and from time to time ASCL as well.

Then there is the issue of location. Much has been made in recent years of the challenges of coastal schools. In practice, this really means more isolated schools wherever they are, but the issue was first noticed in relation to coastal schools with a more limited hinterland than other schools. The Island has a limited travel to work area and that can restrict recruitment as can the very nature of being an island and the extra time it takes to reach the mainland.

The fact that all of these issues are well known makes Mr Hoare’s comments even more unforgivable, if he said what has been reported.

TeachVac is proud to be located on the Isle of Wight and has employed some excellent staff since we started operations just over two years ago. The company will continue to put its faith in the Island as a location and I join in on the call on Mr Hoare to resign. Whatever the reason for his remarks, they were uncalled for and should not have been made.

Coda

Mr Hoare resigned on the 23rd August 2016 just over two weeks after his remarks became public knowledge.

What is a CEO worth?

Are salaries paid to the heads of some multi-academy trusts too high, as Sir Michael Wilshaw might seem to think  from the tone of his letter to the Secretary of State or perhaps actually too low for the level of responsibility that they have to undertake. What is clear is that executive heads and chief executives of MATS do seem to think they deserve to earn more than those they manage. This seems like a sound business principle, but is it really?

There is another principle that relates pay to the nature of the work. Is taking the strategic lead in an organisation more important than running an operating unit such as a school? This is a moot point. Perhaps, the justification is that you need good talent and such individuals won’t be prepared to step up from headship without a pay rise. I would have some sympathy if the job had been offered at a lower salary first, but all too often it isn’t: in some cases it isn’t even put out to open competition just decided internally within the MAT. Can that ever be the right thing to do with public money?

With head teachers often subject to dismissal if a school fails an Ofsted inspection, does the same happen to executive heads and CEOs of MATs? If not, why not? We shall no doubt see what happens in response to this Ofsted Report.

Now the alternative view is that in London, at least, middle managers in businesses not much larger than the average primary school in staffing terms can earn six figure salaries and their CEOs even higher amounts and both groups can have bonus payments and share options on top that will pay out handsomely if the company does well. Should schools be competing with these salary levels?

I note that in response to Sir Michaels’ letter to the Secretary of State he pulls no punches. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/506718/HMCI__advice__note_MAT_inspections____10_March_2016.pdf The letter to Mrs Morgan says:

“This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards.

“For example, at the end of August 2015, these seven trusts had total cash in the bank of £111m.

“Furthermore, some of these trusts are spending money on expensive consultants or advisers to compensate for deficits in leadership. Put together, these seven trusts spent at least £8.5m on education consultancy in 2014-15 alone.”

Now, this blog has complained in the past about schools holding large cash reserves that should be spent on teaching and learning. One might also ask, what the Regional School Commissioners have been doing in holding academies to account.

Finally, there are currently 151 local authorities in England with a Director responsible for education. In most cases they have other responsibilities as well. If each were paid £200,000 – more than they actually are – the bill would be just over £30 million before overheads. If 18,000 schools were formed into MATs of 20 schools that would be 900 CEOs. If they were paid only £100,000 each the bill would be £90 million. You can do the maths if there are more MATs and higher salaries.

Personally, I thought we were in an age of austerity and I set up TeachVac to offer a low cost option for recruitment to allow more money to be spent on teaching and learning. Frankly, this Report is disappointing news and I hope that there is an urgent review of salaries in education outside of those set by the STRB for teachers and school leaders. We need some clarity of purpose in the use of public funds.