Thursday, 17 July 2014

Brent School Improvement Service sets out changes as interim head leaves

Rebecca Matthews, Interim Head of Brent School Improvement Service, is ending her contract and will be leaving tomorrow. Sara Williams is currently trying to find someone to cover the role. Clearly given the events at St Mary's RC in Kilburn and the concerns raised in the report of the Education Commission, a quality permanent appointment is essential.

Matthews today wrote to Brent headteachers announcing changes in the core offer made by Brent School Improvement Service: 

One of the main changes to the Core Offer reflects our determination to get the right level of support to schools as soon as possible.  To that end, link advisers and school improvement leads will be undertaking data analysis during July and August as soon as provisional data are available.  

If this early analysis raises concern, at the start of the autumn term, we shall write to you and visit your school as soon as can be arranged so that we can discuss the appropriate levels of support.  It may of course be the case that provisional data will change as there are always marginal changes when dis-applications are taken into consideration.  However, we agree that waiting for Raiseonline data in October/November means that we lose critical months.  Evidence shows that the sooner we can establish Rapid Improvement Groups, the better the progress within the school, and the greater the involvement of governors, the school improvement service and other relevant partners, including school to school support.
For some schools this will mean a change in their School Improvement Partner, an individual who monitors and supports the school.

The accompanying document sets out the role of the local authority: 
Brent is committed to working with schools to ensure that all are good or outstanding. The School Improvement Service recognises that much of the expertise to ensure this happens resides in schools.   It also recognises that the pressure on schools to secure or retain good and outstanding judgements requires focussed effort and the danger of stretching capacity too far can result in a fall in standards.  

It is therefore essential for the local authority to retain a leadership role; as the guardian of quality and standards for all schools; a coordination role in order to capitalise on expertise in schools and facilitate its use to ensure that standards are not diluted elsewhere; and a brokerage role to identify and sign post good practice.  

The partnership between the School Improvement Service, the Brent Schools Partnership (BSP) and the two local Teaching School Alliances offers an exciting and creative opportunity to develop new ways of working that will benefit all schools, leaders, teachers, children and young people.  Such partnerships are best developed over time, and this core offer is revised in July 2014 following the first full year of implementation, learning lessons from the past year and receiving feedback from schools and school improvement staff involved in the process.  During the course of the coming academic year, ways of working collaboratively will continue to develop.  

It is the LA's responsibility to maintain a full overview of the effectiveness of all schools including sponsored academies, converter academies, free schools, the local college and training providers.   This responsibility is fulfilled through desk top analysis as well as through visits to all schools.  All schools are allocated a link adviser who will respond to the statutory responsibilities through at least one visit per year to each school.  

For maintained schools, we will deliver a differentiated Core Offer which departs from the more universal offer previously in place. The purpose of this Core Offer is to provide an appropriately differentiated offer for the most effective and efficient use of public funding.  It will ensure that the best schools are able to define and develop their improvement journey as they see fit, purchasing support from the LA or elsewhere as required.  For those schools not yet good or outstanding, intensive, skilled and purposeful support and monitoring will challenge and encourage the school to improve at speed, and result in intervention if this is not successful.

Where academies, free schools, the college and training providers fail to provide the standards required, it is appropriate for the LA to hold these establishments to account.    This will be through robust discussion with the head teacher and sponsor or trust representative and for 16-19 institutions, with the principal or director.  For academies the LA may raise concerns about performance directly with the Department for Education. (Schools causing concern; Statutory guidance for local authorities; May 2014)
Brent has had several schools now which had been judged 'Good' by Ofsted previously now being down-graded to 'Requires Improvement' or 'Inadequate'. An early-warning system for such schools is essential and the document sets out what will be provided: 
For schools which are good or outstanding, and whose data shows improvement, the LA’s involvement will be light touch.  Once a year, maintained schools will be visited by the school’s link adviser.  Other institutions will be visited by a local authority officer.  The meeting will address a range of issues, depending on the context and situation of the school.  These could include:

·    Standards at the end of each key stage
·    Attainment and progress at the end of each year and for all groups
·    The impact of the pupil premium for low achievers and the more able
·    A review of Ofsted key issues
·    A review of previous recommendations from the School Improvement Service
·    The school’s key priorities
·    Moderation of the school’s self-evaluation
·    A learning walk to judge the quality of teaching and learning
·    The opportunity to identify good practice.

This visit will ensure that the LA can validate the school's own assessment of its strengths and areas for development.  It will also allow for an assessment of the school's capacity to sustain its position and bring about further improvement.  We will support and challenge good and outstanding schools where specific improvement is required and we will celebrate good practice and disseminate it across all schools. 

This will lead to a short report providing an annual ‘health check’ for the school with any recommendations that result from the meeting.  Support to implement the recommendations could be purchased by the school from the School Improvement Service or any other provider or brokered through the Brent School Partnership or with the Teaching School Alliances.  Opportunities for support still exist for these schools, but they will be provided through the traded offer.
It is noteworthy that Brent now recognises and claims a role in monitoring academies and free schools and it will be interesting to see how this develops and whether doors are opened to LA officers:
Academies and 16-19 institutions judged as requiring improvement, serious weaknesses or special measures will also be offered the RIG process without cost, but if they accept, they will be expected to source their own additional support which could be from the local authority or elsewhere.  If an academy or 16-19 institution chooses not to accept the RIG (Rapid Improvement Group), the local authority will ask for details of the actions that the trust, corporation or board will be putting in place to secure improvement, and would request a termly update on the impact.
 However action by the local authority if such interventions are unsuccessful is limited as academies and free schools are directly accountable to the Secretary of State and FE colleges have their own management boards.

Ironically, academisation, which reduces the LA's powers of intervention is listed as a possible solution for failing maintained schools:
The production of the action plan will be the responsibility of the school, working with the link adviser.   The content of the action plan will lead to the implementation of a support programme, with help from the School Improvement Service, the Brent Schools Partnership or the Teaching School Alliances as appropriate, which will be monitored and reviewed at each half termly meeting.  The plan should be specifically tailored to the needs of the school to include support for leadership and management, teaching, learning, inclusion and governance.

Improvement for schools in these circumstances must be swift and embedded in sustained good practice, recognised by Ofsted monitoring visits or LA reviews.   If improvement has not been demonstrated, the LA will use its powers of intervention to ensure improvement.

LA powers of intervention for maintained schools include:

·      Requiring a governing body to enter into arrangements to secure improvement
·      Appointing additional governors
·      Appointing an Interim Executive Board
·      Suspending the delegated budget
·      Considering academy status.

Michael Pavey, previously lead member for children and families in Brent, when first taking over the role had opposed academies and free schools but later acquiesced in the forced academisation of Gladstone Park Primary and actively supported Copland High School's take over by Ark Academy. Little is known of the new lead member, Cllr Ruth Moher's views, but a policy of forced academisation in a Labour authority is bound to be controversial.

Finally there will be efforts to ensure the quality of 'school improvement specialists' and the move to 'school to school support' will continue:
The local authority is well placed to have an overview of quality in the borough.   It will broker school to school support as required.  We recognise that we will not be the only agency involved in this work, but we can offer a broad overview of all schools when required to identify appropriate support.  We will work with the Brent Schools Partnership and Teaching School Alliances to secure leadership capacity and appropriate support to accelerate improvement.  We will work with partners to assure quality and review the impact of support, training and service delivery.  We will share our findings with head teachers and chairs of governors.

We will work with partners to increase leadership and governance development opportunities. Together, we will provide an enhanced range of support and training as required through a needs analysis.

We will provide support both from school improvement specialists and encourage school to school capacity.  We will ensure that school improvement specialists are highly qualified and experienced, most having recent and relevant headship or senior leadership experience, Ofsted training and wide experience of school improvement strategies from a variety of contexts.  We will involve schools in the appointment of these staff and look to secondment opportunities as appropriate.
Not mentioned sufficiently in the proposals is the funding implications of the proposals with the Brent Council budget expected to be under severe pressure next year.  The School Improvement Service has already suffered cuts, the financial compensation for schools engaged in 'school to school support', and the capacity of sufficient numbers of schools to buy into the Brent Schools Partnership are all issues to be addressed.

After all, Michael Pavey claimed that forced academisation of Copland was necessary because Brent Council did not have the capacity or resources to manage the school improvement process itself, and needed Ark to do the job

1 comment:

  1. "Ironically, academisation, which reduces the LA's powers of intervention is listed as a possible solution for failing maintained schools".

    Actually this is not ironic at all, it makes perfect sense from an LA point of view. Convert all the failing schools into academies then this absolves the LA of any but the most cursory of responsibility!

    And what about schools whose performance is being actively undermined by Brent trying to increase class sizes to exceed 30 without giving any additional resources to back this up?