Schools

Extend NLG programme to ‘good’ LA schools, review of reforms suggests

Evaluation of reformed governance support scheme finds 'positive' impact, but delays revealed and calls for 'preventative' expansion

Evaluation of reformed governance support scheme finds 'positive' impact, but delays revealed and calls for 'preventative' expansion

14 Nov 2022, 15:01

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DfE should consider extending the NLG support programme to good and outstanding schools, a new report has found

The government should consider extending the National Leaders of Governance (NLG) scheme to support local authority schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, an evaluation report has suggested.

The programme, which has been running for a decade, was reformed last year to include a wider range of experts, with those sent in to help improve schools’ governance now being paid.

A total of 66 designated NLGs were employed across English regions in 2021-22 to support long-term “requires improvement” schools, or those given the rating during the academic year.

Regional schools commissioners could also refer schools they thought needed intervention for support.

NLGs aim to help improve the quality of governance boards in order to boost the overall performance of schools and trusts.

But an evaluation of the first year of the reformed programme found that expanding the eligibility criteria for maintained schools to include those rated good or outstanding could “support a more preventative approach”.

The report, conducted by government contractor York Consulting LLP, made the assessment after finding that local authorities – responsible for referring maintained schools – often only promoted the offer of support to eligible schools.

Regional Delivery Directorates (RDDs) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which refer MATs and trusts, were instead able to take “diagnostic and preventative” approaches as to who needed NLG involvement most. This was often based on data analysis and regular review meetings.

Support timescales ‘not realistic’

The research report emphasises that it is “too early to comment” on changes and progress made by schools and trusts who have received support, despite stressing that the reception of the reforms had been “positive”.

But it also urged the DfE to consider if current targeted timescales for the deployment of NLGs, reports and action plans were “realistic and appropriate”.

NLGs are currently expected to undertake an External Review of Governance (ERG) of schools or trusts they are matched with and produce a report and action plan within three months.

But the report shows that as of the end of May, nearly 60 per cent of plans were delivered between four and six months after the NLG’s deployment.

It found that the targeted timeframe had “often been a challenge to achieve” including where the match was made before the start of school holidays, school governors were reluctant to engage or a governing board meeting was held before the match was made.

In the latter case, NLGs would then need to wait at least three months to observe the next board meeting.

They are also expected to provide a review three months after delivering an action plan, but some schools and trusts have raised that they would like more time to progress with the plans.

The NGA said the initial three-month period was a “suggested timeframe to ensure support is getting to those settings identified in a timely manner”.

“Our NLG is not looking for everything on the action plan to have been completed and achieved, rather that it is apparent progress is being made to mobilise and moves are in the right direction with some progress evidenced,” it added.

Signs of regional capacity issues

While all schools and trusts referred to the programme were matched with an NLG last year, the research highlights potential “regional and local sufficiency issues”.

The North of England and South West saw the highest number of referrals but had among the lowest number of NLGs able to work in their regions.

Conversely, local authorities with the fewest schools eligible for support – in areas with a greater number of NLGs – were the least likely to make a referral.

The East of England and North-East London had the lowest number of schools eligible for support and referred the lowest percentage. A total of 49 schools were eligible for support, and just 4 per cent were referred to the programme.

NLG referrals by region

The National Governance Association, which runs the scheme, launched a recruitment campaign in June and July this year to boost NLG numbers in the North East, North West and South West.

It told Schools Week it had recruited 13 additional NLGs subject to approval by the DfE, eight of which are in the North and three of which are in the South West.

Following reforms, the governance experts are now paid £500 a day and must have a minimum of five years’ experience as a governor, including three as a chair.

But the report shows that some were unable to offer their expertise in 2021-22, with four not matched to any schools or trusts. It found that this was often because of a lack of experience with the type of establishment referred or the location of referrals.

In some cases, NLGs declined or deferred referrals because of other employment commitments or circumstances.

Speaking at the NGA’s annual conference last week, academies minister Baroness Barran said she was “delighted” that trustees and school leaders interviewed for the evaluation “really valued the quality, rigour and challenge that NLG is providing”.

She added that both the DfE and the association were looking at how they could “take forward” the evaluations findings to ensure the programme continues to have a “positive impact”.

Emma Knights, NGA chief executive, said: “It was a significant task to get the new programme up and running in the time frame we had after winning the tender, and to have achieved so much in its first year is a real testament to my team at NGA and the designated NLGs.”

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