Treasury marks DfE’s 11,500-word homework laying out its vision

Gavin Williamson.

The Department for Education has published an 11,590-word “outcome delivery plan,” detailing the wide-ranging goals and performance metrics it agreed with the Treasury last year to justify its funding.

Sector leaders welcomed the move to greater transparency and accountability. But they said the DfE’s plan lacked detail overall and lacked metrics in significant areas, including the government’s academy vision and outcomes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

The DfE’s four key goals

The document sets out four “strategic outcomes” where the DfE has promised its cash will show “measurable improvement” in the 2021-22 financial year.

These outcomes, some shared with other departments, are to drive economic growth, level up standards nationwide, support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, and provide high-quality early education.

A series of metrics and further goals are included within each outcome, such as the percentage of young people attaining level 3 by age 19 and the “disadvantage gap” at key stage 4.

Ofsted ratings, Ebacc entries and teacher training

But Schools Week analysis reveals notable changes from the provisional draft first agreed with the Treasury last year. 

One prominent metric, the percentage of schools, FE colleges and skills providers rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, had not featured in the draft.

The DfE will now be held to account over Ofsted ratings, despite Covid disruption to schools and inspections, with full inspections only due to resume in September. By contrast PISA, phonics and primary reading, writing and maths scores were removed from the draft and shelved for future years because of data gaps.

Ebacc entries have also been added, after Schools Week asked in May why the metric was missing from the first version. The DfE said it was a drafting issue.

Initial teacher training applications and starts are another new addition. Professor John Howson, chair of jobs site TeachVac, said it may be to “look good” amid Covid-fuelled surge of interest in teaching. 

He warned such metrics alone could be “misleading”, however, as some subjects have too few applicants and others too many versus recruitment needs.

NPQ and ECF measures shelved

free schools
Unity Howard

Meanwhile some metrics have been removed, including the percentage of teachers taking the early career framework full induction and taking reformed NPQs. The DfE now promises only to include such metrics in future “where feasible”. 

Other high-profile areas receive fairly limited attention. Average attainment 8 scores, which the DfE measured itself on in 2019, are absent as a current or planned future metric, though it may simply reflect Covid.

Unity Howard, director of the New Schools Network, said it was “disappointing” free schools go unmentioned, and there was “nowhere near enough information” about how overall standards would be improved.

No metrics for MAT vision

The government’s desire for “every school to join a strong family of schools” is mentioned, but not as a strategic outcome — and there are no metrics or milestones.

Stephen Morales

Stephen Morales, chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership, said the government needed to more clearly “tell us what they’re thinking” about academies.

“Williamson’s said no prescription, but it feels like prescription. And what is a ‘strong’ MAT?”

But he noted any targets could meet “legitimate resistance”.

Michael Pain, CEO of MAT support firm Forum Strategy, said trust leaders would be disappointed by the limited references, and seemingly limited ambition for MATs beyond “growth in the number of schools joining them”.

He called on the DfE to “articulate a clear philosophy around how trusts provide a platform for professional autonomy and collaboration”.

But Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, noted a section on raising standards referenced the conversion and rebrokering of ‘inadequate’ schools, and grants for conversion and MAT expansion. She said it was “right that structural reform does not appear in the headline, because it is the how, not the what or the why of an outcomes plan”.

Calls for SEND metrics and funding for ‘good intentions’

There are also no dedicated outcome metrics for pupils with SEND. Dr Adam Boddison, CEO of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, called for cross-departmental, long-term metrics such as independent living and employment.

Boddison said accountability frameworks more widely were “overly concerned with academic outcomes”, rather than social ones.

But Morales welcomed the accountability and transparency drive underpinning the plan. 

Separate official documents say outcome delivery plans reflect a new Whitehall push for “clear deliverables and metrics for measuring success”, “high-quality evaluation” and cross-departmental working.

The Treasury and Cabinet Office will “regularly monitor” DfE progress, and performance will be made public in its annual report and accounts.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at school leaders’ union ASCL, said the plan contained “useful information on the government’s priorities”, but to deliver them it must “put its money where its mouth is.”

The DfE was approached for comment.

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