Government rejects RSC reform

Government rejects RSC reform

Key recommendations made by cross-party MPs about the role of England’s regional schools commissioners have been rejected by the government.

In January, the education committee reported on its six-month inquiry into the commissioners, the eight civil servants who oversee academies in England.

The report recommended that the areas they oversee should be brought in line with those used by Ofsted, with an additional one created for London. The capital is currently split across three regions.

The MPs also made a series of recommendations to address a lack of transparency and accountability.

A response to the recommendations, released by the government on Wednesday, said the regional set-up was “positive” and commissioner boundaries would not be redrawn.

During the inquiry, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, said the system was creating “logistical issues” for inspectors.

The Department for Education (DfE), however, said the regions and the consequential need to work across existing regions “enables sharing of approaches and experience and supports RSC consistency nationally”.

The committee’s request for a ninth commissioner to oversee London, instead of it being split across three commissioners, has also been rejected.

In November, Munira Mirza, London’s deputy mayor for education, questioned the boundaries that put the neighbouring London boroughs of Islington and Hackney in separate regions.

“One of the expectations of the current system was that the London school system, which is very high-performing, would share its expertise outside London. That hasn’t really transpired,” she told the MPs.

Sources involved in planning for the commissioners, first developed under Michael Gove, the former education secretary, say the government was concerned that a London commissioner would fall under the jurisdiction of London’s mayor rather than the DfE.

But the government response repeated claims that the three-way split was aimed to “spread London’s expertise” outside the capital, and insisted Whitehall was “not complacent about school performance in London”.

Questions also remain over the publication of information about the use of specialist contractors. Schools Week previously reported on the 93 advisers sharing a £12 million contract to advise the commissioners.

The education committee recommended that details of the advisers’ identities, work record and impact be made public. The government response says their contracts have now been published on the Contracts Finder website, but has stayed silent on the possibility that their impact be made known.

Neil Carmichael, the education committee chair, said he welcomed moves to improve the accountability of the commissioners, but there was “still a long way to go, particularly in terms of transparency and oversight. The government’s aspiration for all schools to become academies by 2022 makes this even more important.”

Rejected recommendations

• Government should redesign RSC regions so they are coterminous with Ofsted regions

• Create a ninth regional commissioner for London

• Allow headteachers of high-performing local authority schools to sit on headteacher boards

Recommendations not addressed in the response

• National schools commissioner to attend an education committee hearing

• Regional commissioners record each decision made with reference to a published decision-making framework

Pic: Neil Carmichael