Wednesday 4 July 2012

Governors feel marginalised in school improvement changes

School governors meeting to discuss the future of  Brent Council's services to schools expressed some disquiet at being left out of discussion of the Primary Headteachers' Group proposal  that, outside core statutory services,  the local authority should opt out of providing traded services. This would mean schools providing the services to each other or buying them in from the private or voluntary sector.

The local authority has proposed that it provides 'Targeted Intervention' (Option B from 3 possibilities) with a staffing of 19 posts and a budget of £1.5m..  This new core service plus would include support to schools in a Ofsted category (special measures, notice to improve etc) and those 'stuck at satisfactory' as well as providing an overview of SEN provision, quality of provision and assessment in the Early Years, 14-19 education, pre-exclusion intervention, attendance compliance and targeted intervention and data collection and analysis. This new core service would run from April 2013.

The benchmarking data on school improvement expenditure shows how this has been cut back in comparison with other local authorities, although those authorities may also be much lower next year:

Local Authority
Number of Schools
Stated spend
Stated spend per school
Brent (Option B)

Although governors were concerned about the low  spend, we were told that the council was confident that this is sufficient  to maintain the service. I am still doubtful.

At the same time services funded by the Direct Schools Grant (DSG) are under review. These include support for English and Mathematics in primary schools £370k; special educational needs and inclusive education £163k; ethnic minority achievement £589k;  Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers £166k;  Early Years SEN £167k; and Early  Years quality improvement £577k. The latter two also include the voluntary, private and independent sector. These will be reviewed in October 2012 by the Schools Forum and some may be discontinued with the money reverting to schools.

Governors were concerned that all this may lead to a reduction in the quality of teaching and learning in Brent schools. Cllr Helga Gladbaun made a passionate intervention about the danger of Brent, now achieving well in terms of national comparisons, going back to the bad old days when children crossed council boundaries to seek education in neighbouring boroughs because our schools were so poor.

John Simpson, the consultant who ran the session, said that Brent Council had made their calculations on the assumption (not the expectation) that all secondary schools and half of primary schools would become academies. They could still run Option B based on this scenario and could run the minimum statutory service of Option A if all schools opted out. The local authority would still be responsible as the 'champion of parents' and pupils' interests'.

In answer to a question he said this also applied to academies and although they had funding to compensate for lost council services, the local authorty would still have to fund any intervention required if the academy was failing.

There were many concerns about the consortium school support services proposed by the primary headteachers (although the course was advertised as having a primary headteacher  as a co-tutor, they were not present at the morning session). Concern centred around the lack of quality assurance, the lack of consultation with governors, whether the expertise existed within the schools to provide the service, the contradiction between the market environment of schools where they compete with each other and the cooperative framework required, how schools with major needs would pay for the service, and the impact on the workload of  headteachers of small schools when they would have to spend time on making these support arrangements. One contributor thought it would be a mess and if schools fell apart there would be no one available to pick up the pieces.

If schools work in partnership with the local authority the Civic Centre will provide space for teacher in-service education and training. If schools are completely autonomous they will have to provide their own training and venues.

Although we were initially told that there was plenty of time to consider these issues it became clear that with the DSG services review in October 2012 and  the results announced in November 2012, and the new Core Service to be launched in April 2013 (based at the Civic Centre from July 2013), there would really be little time for governors to consider all the implications.

In the light of these changes there was some support for re-launching an Association of Brent School Governors as a way of empowering governors.  John Simpson concluded by stating that the local authority would take note of governors' concerns but this left the question hanging over how they would influence the primary headteachers' proposals.  A start will be to ask challenging questions at governing body meetings about the proposals and insist on the strategic role of governors.

1 comment:

Nurseries Milton Keynes said...

When running a school or even a day care center, finances need to be enough in the pocket.To top that if your school is a non profit organization then feeling marginalized could just be an understatement.