A new direction from the DfE?
This month, the DfE issued a document entitled “Principles for a clear and simple accountability system”. The purpose was to set out high-level principles on how the accountability system for educational performance will operate and, in particular, how the various organisations - DfE, RSC, Ofsted, local authorities, MATs and schools – will interact. But... does this document also indicate a change in direction from the DfE?
On an initial reading, the publication appears to provide clarity on what is already in operation and aims to remove confusion over the role of the RSC.
The U-turn on coasting schools is identified, however, this is on changes proposed over 18 months ago and, therefore, does not impact the current operating model. The historic proposal, which had the potential to force coasting schools to convert to academy status, has been removed. As we know, this proposal was never legislated for and never enforced so its removal is nothing more than housekeeping.
The interesting part is the reference to school improvement support being provided by “a MAT, an accredited system leader such as a teaching school or a school improvement provider using evidence based programmes”. RSCs will be responsible for identifying and commissioning appropriate support for schools and, by implication, will judge the value and impact of the support offered. We could, therefore, expect a far more rigorous approach to regulating the quality of service from school improvement providers and some current providers may find they no longer reach the standards expected. It will be interesting to see the detailed proposals of this system of school improvement in the consultation document expected in the autumn.
So, does any of this mean we are witnessing a change in direction from the DfE or a slowing down of the rate of academy conversion? While the publication stresses that there is no compulsion to convert (unless judged inadequate by Ofsted), it also makes clear that the expectation is that MATs will grow in size and number and will become key players in the delivery of school improvement. This empowers them to become system leaders and to drive school improvement activities both in and beyond their own schools. This clarification, alongside sustainability factors and the traction the academy program has with continued investment in MAT development, we believe, means that the current rate of academy conversion is likely to continue, or potentially increase.
The principles in the document do not cover the DfE’s role in building capacity in the sector, supporting new free schools, overseeing academy trusts’ financial performance and governance and making decisions about the fair running of the system. We look forward to further information on these areas!