Government lifts the lid on new school improvement boards

The government has published guidance on how the 32 new school improvement boards set up to help turn around struggling schools will operate.

The new sub-regional improvement boards will make recommendations to the government on how to spend £140 million of annual school improvement funding.

They were introduced in July, but the National College for Teaching and Leadership has now published new terms of reference for the boards.

This unexpectedly detailed guidance explains how often the boards will meet, who will sit on them, what their roles and purposes will be, and how they will ensure transparency.

However, one academic has warned the establishment of the boards could lead to “turf wars” with regional schools commissioners (RSCs).

In general, the SRIBs will meet “as required”, but should assemble at least twice during each application round for the government’s £140 million strategic school improvement fund, which has been designed to build a “school-led system” by providing additional cash to schools that need to improve performance and pupil attainment.

The fund opened its second round of applications this week, after granting a total of £20 million to the first set of 56 successful applicants.

It will inevitably lead to turf wars

SRIB members will be drawn from teaching school councils, local authorities and diocesan boards of education. They will work alongside the regional schools commissioners, while regional government officials will also attend meetings, and lead all discussions about the strategic school improvement fund.

Members will be asked to identify how to best use strategic school improvement fund cash to benefit the different regions, and how to monitor the progress of projects that have been supported by the fund. The boards will also explore specific issues across groups of schools, and monitor of the delivery and impact of other DfE initiatives that support schools.

Robert Hill, a leading academic who has written about the changes to school improvement, has questioned the need for the boards, with RSCs already operating.

Robert Hill

“It’s not clear to me why we need RSC and education standards delivery teams. It will inevitably lead to turf wars,” he said.

However, Hill Schools Week that the principle of the boards was a good one. They will “bring all the key players round the table” in order to “identify the challenges and needs of the area and agree how to support improvement”, he said.

But he said the the terms of reference were “narrowly focused”, as they concentrate on bids for one of a number of funds “that is only going to last for 18 months”.

“Their remit should be drawn more widely and foster sustained locality-wide programmes that prioritise teachers learning together to improve their knowledge and working together to improve their practice.”

The latest guidance says SRIBs will be responsible for identifying common challenges that apply across the schools in their region and pinpointing the areas that are most in need of improvement. A register of conflicts of interest will be held for all members, and a record of each meeting’s discussions will be published of the DfE website.

Also published online will be a membership list and the outcomes of any decisions on funding from Justine Greening, the education secretary.

The SRIBs are the brainchild of Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner, who first floated the idea when he was the RSC for the south-west of England.

Sir David Carter

In a submission to the education selection committee in 2015, he wrote that he wanted to develop four advisory boards to “build on the expertise and knowledge that our headteacher board has provided”.

He said they would help “provide further input at a sub-regional level and to help shape strategic development” across the south-west.

The launch of the boards has fuelled speculation that the government is trying to recreate elements of the local authority system within central government.

Schools Week reported earlier this month that the DfE is advertising two “school improvement” roles at the Sheffield office of John Edwards, the RSC for the east midlands and the Humber, for between six and nine months.

The plan is to recruit them from schools, multi-academy trusts or councils, and they will work work part-time, earning a maximum salary of £67,680 pro rata.

While only two roles are currently advertised, Schools Week understands this is a trial run for a wider recruitment policy that could be replicated across the country.

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