Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Supporting education

Debate at this year's first ASCL Council meeting, on 18-19 September in Warwick, centred on better ways to measure school and college performance and how to best support schools under pressure from the National Challenge and local authorities.

Balanced scorecard

Full Council debate

Council held a debate over whether ASCL would support a balanced scorecard approach to school and college accountability, which the government seems to be considering as an alternative to the current accountability systems, including league tables.

A balanced scorecard takes into account a variety of indicators which are each given a score. These are then tallied to give an overall grade. The model has been used successfully in New York and is being introduced in the UK through Framework for Excellence (FfE) fo post-16.

Reaction from Council was mixed. Some welcomed a scorecard approach, saying that it may take away the perverse incentives to concentrate on certain groups of students and that it would help to rebalance the government's focus on academic success regardless of context.

Some Council members favoured the current system, saying that because league tables were complicated and confusing, they were not held in high regard by parents. They were concerned that a single score would be used in a simplistic way to compare and rate schools and colleges.

Much of the discussion was around what the 'basket' of indicators would include and how much influence school and college leaders would have over this. Doubt was also expressed over whether one set of indicators could be found that worked for schools in all settings. A UK model might contain measures of attainment, attendance, wellbeing and student progress but this would omit any indication of capacity to improve.

There was widespread agreement that financial incentives should not be put in place for high achieving schools.

It was noted that the balanced scorecard is already coming to post-16 providers in the form of FfE and it was felt that ASCL's efforts should be put into influencing the indicators, rather than opposing the concept.

It was agreed that ASCL should give cautious and provisional support to a balanced scorecard approach, in order to help move away from league tables with perverse incentives, but that it would argue to give school and college leaders the greatest possible influence over what indicators would be used.

Information, advice and guidance

Full Council debate

Arising from discussion in Public and Parliamentary Committee, Council held a short debate on the issues around impartial information, advice and guidance (IAG), in light of the government's desire for more legislation in the next education bill.

Brian Lightman, who represents ASCL on the DCSF steering group, reported that the government views poor IAG as a serious problem but this seems to be based on anecdote rather than on an informed view of what happens in schools and colleges.

Several people expressed the view that IAG staff struggle to keep up with changes to the options available to students, and what might be perceived as bias is in fact lack of up-to-date information.

Others pointed out that it is impossible to 'guide' students impartially and it is more effective to concentrate on giving young people the skills and knowledge to make their own decisions. More use should be made of the internet for impartial information.

There was a clear need for protocols to help schools and colleges work together on providing IAG.

In addition to taking these points back to the group, Brian asked for volunteers to host civil servant visits in order to demonstrate to them how IAG works in practice in schools and colleges. Please email brian.lightman@ascl.org.uk if you would like to help with this.

Challenging schools

Full Council debate

The final debate was on the situation surrounding schools in the National Challenge and in challenging circumstances. John Dunford reported that regional and field officers were now supporting several school leaders in National Challenge schools and ASCL had received reports of heads who had been removed.

Some Council members also reported that their schools, not in the National Challenge and rated satisfactory by Ofsted, had been labelled as 'schools causing concern' by the local authority and put under additional pressure and scrutiny, without clear explanation as to why.

There was widespread agreement that local authority support was not the answer as it was generally neither constructive nor helpful and many local authorities had little practical experience of secondary leadership.

The most constructive help typically came from the school improvement partner (SIP). It was emphasised that some local authorities still do not understand the role of the SIP and in some cases were trying to sideline them.

One head reported that the best personal aid she received on being named a National Challenge school was from ASCL and she urged other heads facing scrutiny to contact the hotline.

Some heads reported being asked to serve as National Challenge advisers. It was suggested that these heads seek clarity about what the local authority expects the role to be before taking it on.

As well as supporting schools individually, ASCL was urged to provide a collective response to the government as to what National Challenge schools should and should not be expected to do.

It was agreed that ASCL will collate feedback from these schools on their experience of both demands and assistance in order to put pressure on the government. It will also put pressure on local authorities to adhere to the principle of intervention in inverse proportion to success. However John Dunford warned that political pressure on Number 10 was creating a considerable challenge in changing DCSF policy substantially on this.

Wellbeing indicators

Professional Committee

The committee heard that the DCSF is determined to put in place the pledge made in the Children's Plan to have "strong school-level indicators of pupil wellbeing". ASCL has been in talks with DCSF civil servants and Ofsted since the spring and hopefully has moved thinking away from national standardised parental surveys and 'league tables' of indicators such as pregnancy rates and number of overweight pupils.

The committee agreed that the self-evaluation form (SEF) recorded evidence of all of the Every Child Matters outcomes and that the government should utilise this. If Ofsted is determined to have a national benchmark of parental satisfaction, this should be collected via schools' own surveys which are already in place.

It was agreed that ASCL will continue its efforts to limit any adverse impact of the indicators and will emphasise that, whatever indicators are agreed, they should not be used to compare or rate individual schools, which should not be held solely accountable for the outcomes. Accountability should be mainly with the local authority and health and welfare agencies.

KS3 assessment

Education Committee

In light of the National Curriculum test fiasco over the summer, the Education Committee put forward the following resolution, which reflects ASCL's policy on assessment, and which was adopted by Council:

Council notes with dismay this summer's organisational failures of Key Stage 3 (and KS2) national tests. It believes that KS3 tests are, in any case, an unnecessary burden upon children, schools and the public purse.

Council also notes the development of 'single' level National Curriculum and functional skills testing. It believes that neither can be credibly added to an already over stretched system.

Council calls for:

  • the abolition of KS3 tests

  • a full review of the burden, costs and methods of assessment

  • a new, simplified approach to the testing of functional skills

Post-16 funding

Funding Committee

While reiterating ASCL's commitment to a demand-led funding system, the Funding Committee discussed its concerns about deficit funding - in some cases up to 25 per cent - in some school sixth forms. The committee asked for continued pressure on the LSC to ensure that the new funding system is implemented properly next year. It also brought to full Council the following resolution, which was passed.

Council believes that the plan-led system for post-16 funding:

  • is better in principle but has not worked for some in practice due to failures in planning and funding

  • will only work if the total number of learners in the system is accurately predicted and fully funded

It also believes that schools and colleges that suffered extreme shortfalls in 2008 should receive some compensation, but not at the expense of other providers.

STPCD and rarely cover

Pay and Conditions Committee

The committee heard a report from ASCL pay and conditions specialist Stephen Szemerenyi on the 2008 School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. Schools will need to take into account changes to part-time teacher pay and threshold. (See Changes to assessment against threshold for details.)

The committee also reviewed statistics showing that the average number of cover hours for teachers stands at 22.8 hours. This will become an issue in September 2009 when one of the last elements of the original workforce agreement, rarely cover, comes into effect. The committee agreed that as a matter of priority ASCL should provide guidance on how schools can meet their obligation. Once again it was emphasised that rarely cover does not mean 'never cover'.

  • The next ASCL council meeting will be held on 20-21 November.

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