A Conservative government with Nicky Morgan as secretary of state gives some chance of stability to allow schools to implement changes already in the pipeline
In the National Governors’ Association (NGA) manifesto published a year ago we called for a period of stability, the most called-for request by our members – governors and trustees across England. A Conservative government with Nicky Morgan as secretary of state gives some chance of this happening.
Although governor responsibility for school budgets is often overlooked by commentators, school governors are eminently qualified to advise on school funding. The next few years are going to be a torrid time for school finance, but let’s not generalise – it will be far more taxing in some parts of the country than others. The last government was not brave enough to tackle the underlying problem of funding disparities, which mean schools in some counties are down to their last penny while others, particularly in the big cities, are building up surpluses. The government must not shy away this time.
It’s going to be a torrid time for school finance
Fundamental reform of capital funding allocations is also required, or we will see more and more school buildings crumbling. And we are greatly worried about sixth-form funding; if we keep on the same trajectory, schools will struggle to offer a broad curriculum.
Any funding reform needs to continue ensuring that poverty and other disadvantages are taken into account, and the NGA breathes a huge sigh of relief that the Conservatives have committed to retaining the pupil premium. This dedicated funding for pupils from poor families has revolutionised the way school leaders and governing boards are held to account for improving the lot of these children.
It is, however, a real possibility that we will not be able to find a good teacher for every class and we have real concerns about the mechanisms for ensuring the right number of good school places exist in the same places as the children. We can’t be frittering money away on extra places where they are not needed.
Clearly regional school commissioners are here for the duration, no doubt becoming even more powerful players. But there will need to be more of them if they are to make a difference. Currently they often firefight in schools that have already plunged into chaos. We need a system where this happens less often as schools become resilient places that can set their own vision and deliver it.
NGA has always taken the view that no particular school structure guarantees success. Most independent evaluations of the academies movement show that while some are examples of successful turnarounds, it isn’t a panacea. It has also been shown that in struggling schools, academy conversion can distract from the important job of improving teaching and learning. Consequently we are concerned at the government’s pledge to make all requiring improvement schools become academies.
There is also a pragmatic question of where academy sponsors will come from. Multi-academy trusts, particularly smaller ones, are wary of taking on additional challenging schools as the reality of the responsibility sinks in. Capacity is not elastic and school improvement can’t simply be done as a Monday afternoon add-on.
On the upside, this Government gets school governance. It is the first administration in a long time, perhaps ever, to really understand a governing board’s place in the complicated world of holding the school system to account. Credit must be given to Lord Nash for promoting the importance of having capable governors in every school, and we will continue to make the case for insisting upon volunteers being trained before they take up this crucial responsibility.
The recruitment of willing and able volunteers is no easy task. Of course we welcomed the Conservative manifesto pledge to make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for employees in large companies and the public sector. The Inspiring Governors Alliance set up last year to encourage volunteering also needs to have some seriously senior profile if it is going to get sufficient traction, especially in those parts of England where it is most difficult to recruit. The prime minister himself would do well to lend his voice to the cause.