Academies

Trusts urge DfE to launch independent schools regulator

CST adds voice to calls for independent body 'with same legal standing as Ofqual' and accountable to parliament

CST adds voice to calls for independent body 'with same legal standing as Ofqual' and accountable to parliament

28 Feb 2024, 6:00

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The body representing England’s academy trusts has added its voice to calls for an independent schools regulator.

In a report published this morning, the Confederation of School Trusts said its vision would “ensure independence, impartiality and transparency” of decisions, with it having the same legal standing as Ofqual, the exams regulator.

CST adds voice to calls for independent schools regulator 'with same legal standing as Ofqual'
CST boss Leora Cruddas

It comes after former Department for Education adviser Tom Richmond put forward plans last month for a regulator to be handed intervention powers, finance and governance oversight, and the ability to close and open schools.  

CST is also urging the government to give regulation and commissioning responsibilities to such a body.

“Unlike the current arrangements, regulation should be independent of the Department for Education. The government should establish an independent schools regulator with the same legal basis as Ofqual, with a chief regulator, accountable to Parliament,” the CST report stated.

“This would ensure independence, impartiality and transparency of regulation.”

Beware council conflicts

CST noted “there are some in the sector who are proposing that regulation and commissioning could or should be exercised locally, and in particular by” councils, instead.

But it believes such proposals are flawed as they would “drive massive conflicts of interest into the system”. This is because councils “cannot exercise regulatory authority over other types of responsible bodies”, like trusts and dioceses.

It also said that such a system would “result in inconsistent and variable quality of provision” between areas.

In today’s report, CST also told ministers to “consult on report card-style reports” for Ofsted visits “to replace the current system of graded judgements”.

Despite describing trust inspections as “inevitable”, it noted the DfE should “consider carefully” their purpose and underpinning evidence.

It suggested the checks could be carried out in cases where Ofsted has concerns for a particular trust, or as part of a rolling programme of visits to inform regulatory activity.

Adverse inspection results could even “trigger statutory intervention in trusts”, it added.

‘Shift mindset to community accountability’

It also called on the government to “review the current approach to performance measures to ensure” they are “aligned to the broader intentions of the accountability framework and do not have unintended consequences or perverse incentives”.

The body argued that care is needed to make sure these metrics “work to support and recognise inclusivity”, with schools empowered “to make decisions that are in the best interests of all pupils”.

CST added that trusts “should be ever-more explicit and eloquent about their vision and the measures that will evidence [their] success”.

These will include “the government’s performance measures but need not be constrained by them”, enabling a “shift in our mindset to being accountable to the people and communities we serve”.

As part of Richmond’s proposals for the sector, his proposed regulator – which he named the Office for Capability and Oversight in Education (OFCOE) – would hold public hearings and consultations on major decisions.

Regional directors currently hold meetings on academy decisions with their advisory boards behind closed doors.

Richmond said OFCOE would therefore be given many of the regulatory functions of regional directors and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.  

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