Thursday 17 January 2013

Brent Council and schools: 'Responsibility without power' conundrum

Ofsted announce today that they will be going into local authorities where schools are not doing as well as expected and inspecting 10% of schools.  They will be particularly focusing on how the local authority is monitoring schools and supporting improvement. Brent schools are doing well but do appear to be under the DfE spotlight at the moment.

There is a contradiction here because the Coalition's policy is to 'release' schools from what they call local authoirty 'control'. This has meant that schools that become academies manage their own improvement and more power is devolved to heads and governing bodies in local authority schools. Schools appoint their own Link Advisers  (the latest version of inspectors) who are supposed to act as a critical friend who are increasingly consultants, rather than being employed directly by the local authority. Some suspect that appointing your own critical friend ensures that  the critical friend is not too critical. As a result of schools' autonomy School Improvement Services have been cut.

 In Brent things have gone further with primary school headteachers decide to set up a social enterprise to manage their own improvement services with the local authority retaining only core services for schools causing concern. The danger in this is it relies on schools themselves, via headteacher, governors and link adviser, recognising that they are not doing well and seeking help from the diminished local authority.

The recent Ofsted report on Gladstone Park Primary School  LINK which had lead to it being given Grade 4 Inadequate, apart from being unique in not mentioning the headteacher, has a passage on the local authority.
Representatives from the local authority have helped the school identify where teaching could be improved but they have not asked questions about the school’s progress records so they have not had a strong impact on addressing the weaknesses in pupils’ achievement
Early this term following the Ofsted report on Gladstone Park and the earlier report on Salusbury Primary, issued an updated guide on Schools Causing Concern. It sets out the role of the Link Adviser:

  Link advisers are expected to challenge and support the school’s self-evaluation and planning.

The link adviser acts as a critical professional friend to the school, helping its leaders to:

·        evaluate the school’s performance

·        identify priorities for improvement

·        plan effective change

·        discuss with the school any additional support it may need.

The link adviser is the principal source of challenge and support to schools causing concern. 

The service deploys link advisers whose experience and expertise is well matched to the needs of such schools.  When a school is identified as in decline or a cause for concern, the link adviser is required to provide regular updates on progress to the Principal Adviser and to the Head of Services to Schools. 

The link adviser ensures that the headteacher is fully aware of the link adviser’s view of the school, as recorded in the Records of Visit and in the School Report Form (SRF). The link adviser constantly challenges the school causing concern on the pace and extent of improvement through regular, frequent link adviser visits. The link adviser will also provide the head with strong support, appropriate to the needs of that head. 
Following the Ofsted Report parents at Gladstone Park questioned Faira Ellks, Head of  Brent School Improvement Services, on why the Link Adviser did not pick up on the school's weaknesses. Minutes of the Parents' Meeting record:
Faira Ellks introduced herself and explained her role was to provide monitoring and support to schools. She said that the school’s previous Link Adviser (a new one has been appointed) was very experienced and had pointed out weaknesses in the school. Although she’d had concerns, she believed that over the course of her year’s inspections, the school had done enough to pass the Ofsted inspection and judged the school as meriting a grade 2 (Good). In hindsight, it had to be acknowledged that this judgment was over-generous partly, at least, because it did not take account of quite recent changes in the Ofsted inspection framework. Because the Governing Body, which holds the school to account, had received a report of Good, it did not act as it would have done had this assessment properly reflected the school’s inadequacies. Although the Link Adviser had recommended in her report that there was still work to be done, Ofsted did not agree that enough work had been done.
Parents at Gladstone are challenging the DfE's attempts to force it to become an academy  and calling for the DfE to recognise the strengths of their school.  In Croydon parents at Roke Primary are fighting a similar battle about what they call a 'hostile takeover' of a successful school by the Harris Academy chain:

Nigel Geary-Andrews, a parent said:
For years and years it's been a very, very, good school. There's one little blip and Michael Gove seems to have seen an opportunity and jumped in. It feels like a hostile take-over of a very much loved school.
Speaking at the Brent Executive on Monday regarding the expansion of secondary schools, Cllr George Crane said that the problem was that the local authority had responsibility for providing school places but did not have responsibility for schools now that most have become academies. It is responsibility without power. There is a danger that as a result of cuts to services and increased autonomy of schools, that the local authority will be in exactly that position at a time when Ofsted is expecting more of them.

No comments: