The government will attempt to “clarify” the roles of its schools commissioners, funding agency and Ofsted in order to address confusion among school leaders, the education secretary will announce today.
In his first major speech to the schools community since taking office, Damian Hinds will tell delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference that he intends to “make a statement” to ensure teachers and school leaders have a “clear understanding” of exactly who they are accountable to, and for what.
This clarification, which will be made by Hinds at a later date following a consultation with school leaders, will address the roles of the commissioners, Ofsted inspectors and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Schools Week understands.
The growth of the academies programme and subsequent increase in the influence held by regional schools commissioners has led to a blurring of the lines between different levels of accountability within England’s schools system.
In 2015, a regional schools commissioner was criticised for requesting an underperforming school to grade its teaching – despite Ofsted ditching the controversial practice the previous year. And last year, it was revealed that commissioners were writing to coasting schools to identify specific support, leading critics to suggest they are now operating as reinvented local authorities.
In 2016 Sir Michael Wilshaw, Spielman’s predecessor as chief inspector, described the schools commissioners system as “not clear” and said relationships between them and Ofsted were “a bit tense”. The Department for Education has been actively looking at the overlap between the two organisations since January.
Appearing alongside Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools and Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, Hinds will say that schools must continue to be held to high standards, because children “only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best”.
However, the education secretary will acknowledge the current accountability regime “can feel very high stakes for school leaders – and that this filters down to all staff”.
“I also know that schools can at times feel accountable to multiple masters, and even subject to multiple ‘inspections’. That is why I will be making a statement – following consultation with ASCL and others – to clarify the roles of actors within the system.”
Barton told Schools Week he welcomed Hinds’ promise of clarity, and said leaders had found their “heads spinning in all directions” as a result of the blurring of the lines between official bodies.
“If you go back to 2010, the great promise was one of liberation. You were going to be freed from the shackles of accountability, so long as your school continued to perform well. And I think the early realisation from the department is that they had given away all the levers of power, and therefore a middle tier of a kind was put in place.”
Barton said part of the confusion is that while Ofsted’s role is “mainly retrospective”, regional schools commissioners appear to be focused on “predicting a schools trajectory”.
“That becomes incredibly stressful and anxiety-building for school leaders because they feel they’re being judged on stuff where the students in the system haven’t yet sat their exams, so anything that brings clarity to that has got to be welcome.
“I just think people find themselves confused by, ultimately, who they should be accountable to.”