The job of regional schools commissioners (RSCs) will become harder as the number of pupils under their oversight increases, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has warned.
In a report on the role of RSCs, the NFER said the commissioners, who deputise for education secretary Nicky Morgan on decisions about academies, would face variable challenges depending on the areas they oversee.
Eight RSCs were appointed last summer by the Department for Education and have delegated powers to approve the conversion of maintained schools into academies, issue warning notices and rule on expanding or reducing intakes.
The NFER’s report found that although RSCs were not responsible for school place planning, the increasing pressure on school capacity provided “an important backdrop to their role”, and was “likely to exacerbate their challenges”.
It also found that although 64 per cent of secondary schools and 16 per cent of primary schools nationally were academies, the proportion of academies varied by region and phase, leading to a difference in workload between RSCs.
The report said that some RSCs would also be more challenged than others due to a wide variation in the number of schools considered to be ‘coasting’ or have results below the government’s floor targets, with one region containing 300 schools requiring attention, while another had fewer than 150.
The ability of RSCs to tackle underperformance is dependent on academy sponsors but the report notes that regions with the greatest need for good sponsors tend to be those with the smallest pool of existing “high potential” sponsors.
Ben Durbin, head of impact at the NFER said the report “clearly showed” that there was “no single solution for all the RSCs”, adding: “Instead they each have different and challenging roles that reflect a wide variation in the education landscape of the regions.”
The government has acknowledged that RSC workload will increase due to the introduction of the education and adoption bill. Under the new law commissioners will be responsible for deciding which maintained schools are ‘coasting’ and should be converted to academies.
Currently, the performance of RSCs is judged on how many schools they turn into academies, but the government has confirmed their key performance indicators will be reviewed if the bill, which passed the committee stage in the House of Commons in July, passes both houses.