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Time to take stock

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On assessment, report cards and partnerships, where do we draw the line between autonomy and accountability? ASCL Council debated these issues on 5-6 February.

KS3 assessment

Education Committee

ASCL has sent initial comments to the DCSF expert group looking at assessment at Key Stage 3. The committee was concerned at the presumption that there is a void which needs to be filled at Key Stage 3.

The committee noted Ofsted's view that external assessment at KS3 is not needed as long as schools have in place a good system for tracking progress which parents and pupils understand and which informs teaching. It was suggested that the distinction between KS3 and KS4 is no longer needed. The government should instead think in terms of 11-16 education in which GCSE courses could begin after the second year with some subjects taken at the end of the fourth year.

The consensus was that existing good practice should be allowed to flourish - after all only three of the 14 or more subjects at KS3 were ever subject to external assessment. The others use internal assessment, which is accepted by teachers, parents, students and Ofsted.

ASCL's draft policy paper on KS3 assessment will be revised to reflect the views expressed.

School report card

Professional and Public and Parliamentary Committees

The two committees met jointly to finalise ASCL's response to the consultation on the school report card. The government is committed to introducing it; therefore ASCL's efforts should be on influencing the direction of its development.

It was agreed that the draft consultation response should be strengthened to emphasise that ASCL would only support the school report card if it met the eight principles in ASCL's response, that ASCL members still have a range of serious concerns and that the association wishes to remain fully engaged in its development.

Members objected to a 'levels of progress' measure since this does not account for progress within levels. There would be a perverse incentive to concentrate on grade boundaries. It is still unclear how the balanced score card will fit into the Ofsted framework - this must be a priority.

It seems inevitable that the school report card will lead to increased workload although the government has assured ASCL it will not. ASCL's role must be to minimise the amount of paperwork and reporting.

Consulting students

Public and Parliamentary Committee

Later this spring the DCSF will issue guidelines on schools' duty to consult students which appeared in the last education act. The committee reiterated its support for the concept of student voice but opposed the statutory obligation to do so. ASCL officers are in early discussions with the DCSF over the guidance and are urging the DCSF to make it as 'light touch' as possible.

Post-16 funding

Funding Committee

ASCL officers have been involved in discussions with the DCSF and LSC about post-16 funding. Early indications are that this year's post-16 funding allocations will not be problem-free but hopefully will be an improvement on last year.

ASCL still has concerns about the length of time it takes to process information and make decisions within central government - October statistics do not reach key offices quick enough.

Once final notifications are sent on 13 March, ASCL will support individual institutions which believe they have been funded unfairly.

Executive heads and academy principals

Pay and Conditions Committee

The committee heard that regional and field officers are increasingly involved in contract and remuneration issues involving executive heads and academy principals.

Regarding executive headships, the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) has no provision for these arrangements and there is no mechanism for assessing weight of role. ASCL is pushing the DCSF to resolve these issues, as local arrangements move ahead.

ASCL is recommending that executive headship be seen as a service provision, with accountability for service not the outcome, and ASCL is recommending that the unit total of the schools combined be used to assess pay.

In terms of academy principals, they are often not covered by the STPCD which can leave them vulnerable if things go wrong. The committee asked that ASCL advise academy heads to have their contracts checked by ASCL's solicitors.

Accountability and autonomy debate

Full Council debate

With the Conservative vision for 'autonomous schools' and the DCSF shortly to publish a white paper on 21st century schools, Council held a debate to update the association's position on autonomy and accountability, especially considering the growing need for partnerships and collaboration.

In terms of teaching and learning, Council members felt it was important for staff to have the autonomy to be creative rather than be subjected to a strict curriculum. Teachers should not be afraid to innovate because of Ofsted and the standards agenda.

Council acknowledged that there is tension between autonomy and partnerships. Partnerships can be very effective but only if there is ownership and commitment from all parties involved. Partnerships will not succeed if they are forced on unwilling schools and colleges by local authorities or central government. There must be scope for partnerships to evolve and dissolve as needs change.

Other comments were that the traditional leadership structure (one head/principal with a governing body) doesn't enhance partnership working. A shift in accountability in partnerships could allow senior staff across groups of schools/colleges to work together for the benefit of all the young people in the group. This would allow the roles of deputy and assistant heads to become even more significant.

The view was expressed that as institutions get bigger, it is harder to have full accountability. Many hospitals are not as successful as schools because they are too big. Heads and principals have ownership of their institutions and know that they can make a difference to their students. Decision-making should be kept at the lowest possible level so that ownership is retained.

Systems of accountability need to be streamlined, in particular the self-evaluation form (SEF) and self-assessment report (SAR), the single conversation, Framework for Excellence, Ofsted and the new school report card. The accountability systems need to include all schools.

Building Schools for the Future and Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) are taking away some of the freedoms gained from Local Management of Schools, as local authorities try to implement centrally managed IT services and facilities management contracts. This is a backward step. Deputy General Secretary Martin Ward summed up the debate as follows:

  • ASCL is in favour of curriculum autonomy to facilitate creativity.

  • ASCL supports subsidiarity and decision making at the lowest level but this does not necessarily mean individual institutions. 'Local level' does not mean local authority, but could mean partnerships.

  • Government's role is to set the broad direction of policy and not be an agency for driving targets.

  • Partnerships must be voluntary.

Policy Director Malcolm Trobe will prepare an ASCL position paper.

SEN debate

Full Council debate

Philippa Stobbs, a senior official at the DCSF, joined Council for a debate on special educational needs (SEN) provision, to hear Council members' feedback on the Lamb Enquiry on improving SEN.

Council said that a significant priority must be investment in training for all teachers, not just classroom assistants, particularly in initial teacher training (ITT).

Philippa acknowledged that Ofsted has highlighted this issue and it will be addressed in the enquiry. A pilot ITT project using new SEN materials has had promising results and will be rolled out more widely. However it will take a few years before there is a large number of teachers in schools who have this training.

Regarding accountability, Council members felt that judging progress for SEN students in terms of levels is not helpful as students with severe disabilities may not progress even one level. Other measures are needed. Students who spend extended periods away from school because of illness or operations can regress, which affects progression. Philippa replied that the government is looking at alternative progress measures and is collecting a national data set to inform this.

Other comments were that students with long-term absence due to illness or medical conditions are classified as persistent absentees. This is unfair on the students and the schools.

More 'bridging courses' are needed for post-16 SEN students to build their confidence, keep them engaged in learning and prepare them for college or work.

The statementing process is bureaucratic and lengthy and can lead to parents feeling that the school is putting up barriers. It can result in confrontational situations which require a high level of diplomacy by teachers. There needs to be a clearer way through the system for parents.

Especially where SEN leads to behaviour difficulties, students can be denied access to external support unless they are excluded. In some cases, parents and schools have agreed that it is better to permanently exclude a student so that they can access the support they need.

Differing views were expressed on whether special needs coordinators (SENCOs) should have qualified teacher status (QTS). ASCL's view remains that that decision whether a SENCO should be a teacher should be the school's and that there are many highly qualified non-teacher SENCOs doing an excellent job who may leave the profession.

Council members were concerned that the QTS ruling will make recruiting good SENCOs even more difficult and that if the qualification required to become a SENCO is at master's degree level, the number of SENCOs will reduce even further.

Philippa thanked Council members for their views and said she would consider these in relation to the Lamb Enquiry. At the end of the debate, Council approved an ASCL inclusion policy paper.

  • The next Council meeting will be 4-5 June in Sheffield.

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