A charity has today called for a shake-up to the powers of regional schools commissioners (RSCs) to challenge poor performance – including opening a route for parents to demand the sacking of a headteacher.
The New Schools Network – a group that supports new free school founders with their applications – has also called for new targets for RSCs to create free schools in areas of low standards.
Nick Timothy, director of the New Schools Network said: “Free schools are putting parents in charge, because they’re giving parents more choice about where to send their children to school.
“They’re also better placed to give parents what they want because free schools give more control to headteachers, teachers, parents and governors rather than politicians and bureaucrats.”
The charity’s “parental trigger” proposals would give parents a legal right to a formal response from an RSC if, for instance, a certain number complain about their local school.
It has been described as similar to the “power of recall” where voters can force a by-election if their MP has been found guilty of wrongdoing.
The RSC could then issue an immediate action plan, propose academy conversion or push a change in leadership.
Mr Timothy added: “There needs to be more accountability in the system so parents can get the change they want when a local school is failing.
“We believe the ‘parental trigger’ will be an important legal right for parents and a way of driving up standards in schools that aren’t performing well.”
Just four out of 8,000 Ofsted inspections were triggered by parent complains, the charity said. Figures from Ofsted for the same period show that a further 30 complaints did not trigger immediate investigation but were taken into account during scheduled inspections.
A second proposal for RSCs to be incentivised to set up new schools in areas of low standards would act as a “catalyst for improvements”, the charity said.
Schools Week reported last week that only three of 18 newly approved free schools were in the north after Mr Timothy said more free schools were needed in the area to boost improvement.
But Mike Parker, chief executive of Schools North East, rebuffed the claim: “What the north needs and what the government is keen to see is school-led improvement and we need initiatives that do this, rather than saying that free schools are the answer.”
The UK Statistics Authority last year said it was too early to draw conclusions about the performance of free schools, given the small number so far inspected.
The New School Network’s proposals have been set out in a submission to the Education Select Committee. The Department for Education (DfE) said: “While we already have in place a robust system to deal with school complaints, we take all parents’ concerns seriously and routinely pass them on to the relevant bodies.
“We will consider the New Schools Network’s proposals and continue to ensure that regional schools commissioners, local authorities, Ofsted or our own education advisers, are able to promptly deal with all issues raised by parents and intervene if necessary.”