Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Time for change?

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With a possible change of government on the horizon, much of the discussion at the last Council meeting on 4-5 February centred around post-election priorities, including the future of Ofsted and other quangos.

Value for money

Funding Committee

ASCL has become increasingly aware of ministers and civil servants indicating that they believe schools could be doing more to save money on procurement. Therefore the committee started a discussion on value for money by considering the Audit Commission's report Valuable Lessons. There was criticism of some points, such as not recognising the impact on staffing of workforce reform.

In addition, with increased pressures on budgets there is now more conflict in the potential impact of relative staffing ratios between teaching and support staff. Job evaluation has also resulted in an incremental drift effect.

Much of the criticism from the Audit Commission is related to poor value for money from local authorities (LAs). There was a range of experience expressed - some LAs are very forward thinking whereas others are not so. In a number of LAs, the local school finance regulations do not support effective procurement, for example by not allowing payment by credit card or standing order. It was agreed that where ASCL members are aware of effective LA procedures, they should be brought to the attention of the DCSF so they can be promoted as good practice.

However, it was acknowledged that if schools are not seen to be taking steps to make procurement more effective, it is likely that the DCSF will impose a centralised, standardised solution. It was agreed that ASCL should get the message out that schools need to look carefully at procurement. Members should be encouraged to share good practice. ACSL will continue to emphasise to ministers and civil servants that many schools already have very effective procurement processes, in the widest sense.

Bonfire of quangos

Professional Committee

The committee was asked to consider the roles and responsibilities of education quangos in order that the ASCL view could help influence any review which may be undertaken following the general election. The committee agreed several principles which should govern decisions about the future work of education quangos. They:

  • should contribute to positive outcomes for learners.

  • should undertake work that cannot be done by individual schools and that is inappropriate for central government.

  • should provide independent, evidence-based professional advice to ministers.

  • should be efficient, focusing at all times on best value for money.

  • may be time limited and their purpose should be reviewed regularly. It is important to guard against self-perpetuation.

Quangos should not:

  • be a delivery arm of the government

  • duplicate functions of the DCSF

Future of Ofsted

Professional Committee

The committee reviewed ASCL's position on the future role of Ofsted. Members agreed that inspection should report on the efficacy of the system as a whole, as well as individual institutions, and should be independent of government. Previous inspection arrangements led by HMIs, who had knowledge of local areas, enabled inspectors to place their judgements in a more accurate context.

The committee agreed that at present there is too much emphasis on raw results and too little on student achievement. There should be a focus on improvement with credit given for the journey which a school or college is making. Inspection should give quality assurance by providing an external validation of internal self-review. It is vital that inspectors understand fully the data with which they are working and know how to draw statistically valid inferences from it.

One core principal was reiterated - that the system will not be fair until it is possible for institutions in the most challenging circumstances to have the same opportunities to achieve a high inspection grade as those in more favoured areas.

Ofqual consultation

Education Committee

As the last education act legally made Ofqual the independent regulator for assessment, it is obliged to consult on how it implements the powers in the act. Therefore committee discussed how it would like to see Ofqual operate.

ASCL education policy specialist Sue Kirkham attended the initial consultation meeting. She emphasised that Ofqual has an advisory role to the secretary of state but is intended to operate independently. The chief executive of Ofqual will report to Parliament and work in a similar way to HMCI when she reports back. Ofqual will regulate all qualifications including National Curriculum assessment and teacher assessment. Awarding bodies will be regulated at organisational level rather than qualification level.

The committee felt that Ofqual has a wide remit and will need to target its work carefully. It should use its independence democratically, in that it should take into consideration the views of the profession. In terms of liaison with the awarding bodies, the committee agreed that some common vocabulary and processes would be helpful and Ofqual could facilitate this.

However it was recognised that Ofqual cannot ask the awarding bodies to collaborate as they would then be in breach of the competition law. A question was asked about Ofqual's role in the perception of 'hard' and 'soft' subjects at GCSE and A level.

Sue Kirkham will use these points in ASCL's response to the consultation.

Executive heads

Pay and Conditions Committee

There was a wide ranging discussion about the role of executive heads, which currently is not recognised in the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).

The 2002 education act says that each school must have a head, so there can be no provision for an executive head, where there is no school for which they are directly accountable.

Hay Consulting, the National College and ASCL are currently undertaking a study of executive heads, and will produce a report later in the year which will be available to the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB).

Several models of executive headship were discussed by the committee. The key point to emerge was that executive headship should be seen as an additional rung on the career ladder, which should be formalised in the STPCD.

However committee felt that the STPCD should only cover those situations where there are additional responsibilities.

Where there is no additional accountability, those functions should be seen as a service provision (such as consultancy arrangements) and paid for and regulated accordingly.

It was argued that only where the individual is the legal head of at least one school should that individual be covered by the agreements of the STPCD.

ASCL will take these points back to discussions with the STRB.

Political party manifestos

Plenary debate

Council reviewed the education policies of the main political parties and discussed which policies members would want ASCL to support and which to oppose.

It was felt that, with all parties, ASCL should challenge any new initiative on the grounds of value for money to make sure that the vast majority of funding is going to the frontline where it will benefit students. There was also scepticism that many of the proposed policy initiatives would even get off the ground as the reality is that there will not be enough money to fund them.

Council agreed on several principles: A coherent state education system is important and ASCL should continue to fight its corner. ASCL should object to changes to structures that would polarise the system.

In terms of accountability measures, including inspection and the report card, it should be equally possible for institutions in challenging areas to be considered successful as those in more affluent areas.

Above all, more trust should be placed in professionals on the front line. ASCL should stress to all parties the principles of intelligent accountability.

ASCL officers will use these points when meeting with party representatives over the coming weeks.

Diplomas

Plenary debate

A discussion in full Council about the future of diplomas brought forward widely varying experiences. Some institutions has good take up; others had struggled to recruit. For many consortia, logistics of timetabling and transport had not been a significant issue, but this was not the case in rural areas.

There were few examples of level 1 or 3 diplomas working well. Most consortia appeared to use diplomas for brighter students working at level 2 who found it difficult to engage with traditional academic curriculum.

A significant concern was the cost - it was felt that the funding is unsustainable. Removing the entitlement to all 13 lines will help somewhat. ASCL officers will take these points back to the DCSF.

The next Council meeting will be held on 10-11 June in Warwick.

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