RSCs under fire after ordering interventions in coasting schools

Geoff Barton.

Regional schools commissioners are writing to coasting schools to identify specific support, leading critics to suggest they are now operating as reinvented local authorities.

Nearly 800 schools “failing to ensure pupils reach their potential” have been identified as “coasting” under government measures introduced earlier this year.

The schools send outlines of their improvement plans to regional schools commissioners (RSCs), who then decide if further intervention is required.

RSCs have now responded to schools, telling some they need external support in specific departments and generic leadership support. The interventions will be decided by the RSC, Schools Week understands.

Geoff Barton (pictured), general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the intervention “smacks of system managerialism”.

“The government advocates a self-improving system, but then involves RSCs in school improvement, almost akin to the reinvention of roles previously undertaken by local authorities.”

The intervention smacks of system managerialism

The move is not unexpected. The national commissioner, Sir David Carter, previously announced a pot of cash from which commissioners could procure improvement services.

However, critics say accountability concerns mean the RSCs should steer clear of delivering school improvement.

Robert Hill, a former government policy adviser, called for clarity. “Are RSCs the regulator, or a school improvement co-ordinator?

“The two can be combined, but RSCs should draw the line at being involved in commissioning support. That must be for the trust [or local authority].”

At present, if the improvement service provided by the RSC does not work, the academy trust or local council overseeing an underperforming school will still be held to account by Ofsted and the commissioner, who could forcibly convert or rebroker the school to another trust.

In a previous interview with Schools Week, Carter defended the school improvement approach as it gave schools an opportunity to improve quickly in specific areas, rather than RSCs immediately rebrokering a school in trouble and “having to rip the whole thing apart”.

James Bowen, director of the middle leaders’ union, NAHT Edge, also welcomed the RSC support plans, which he said showed a “shift in tone” from “punitive punishment” to “constructive partnership”.

It can only work . . . if there is that capacity from the RSC and their teams

Bowen also agreed accountability for the success of the support should rest with the school. But he added: “We expect there to be a genuine partnership between the RSCs and the headteacher about the kind of support that will work. The school also has to be comfortable with the support, which shouldn’t be imposed.”

If the support didn’t work, Bowen said school leaders should inform commissioners immediately – something that hinged on a constructive relationship.

However, he conceded that the capacity of RSCs to have such relationships with growing numbers of schools remained the “ultimate challenge”.

“It can only work . . . if there is that capacity from the RSC and their teams.”

In January last year the education select committee warned the government to closely monitor the “significant increase” of schools RSCs were now expected to oversee.

Department for Education guidance says support could be delivered through teaching school alliances, or partnerships with high-performing local schools.

The RSC will monitor a school’s progress and can take further action if it has not made “sufficient improvement” within a set timeframe.

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