- The Government announced it was creating eight new posts for Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) in early 2014. Appointees took up their positions in September 2014. Initially their role was to take operational decisions about academies and free schools on behalf of the Secretary of State. The eight RSCs have no legislative basis but have considerable powers delegated from the Secretary of State.
- The eight RSCs have Headteacher Boards (HTBs) to advise them. These are made up largely of heads of academies within the region. Some are elected by local academy heads and others are appointed or co-opted.
- RSCs have been appointed on salaries which in some cases are over £140,000 a year. Staffing costs in each office are up to £260,000. Payments for academy heads serving on the HTBs are £500 per day and head teachers are expected to spend at least half to one day per week on the role.
- The role of RSCs has changed considerably since their creation. The first advertisement for RSCs stated that: “The role of local authorities will be unchanged.” 1 Despite this, on 15 June 2015, Lord Nash wrote to Local Authority Directors of Children’s Services to announce new powers for RSCs over maintained schools.2 His letter stated: “This change represents the next step to creating a more regionalised system.” A move towards a more regionalised system is a dramatic change in the educational landscape, especially since there are no democratic structures at a regional level.
- In August 2015, a DfE advertisement appeared for ‘Education Specialists to support the academies and free school programme’.3The total worth of the contract is £12 million over two years for consultants who, according to the job description, will support the Regional Schools Commissioners.4 This development appears to be a rebranding of the role of ‘academy brokers’ who were employed to ‘persuade’ heads and governors to convert their schools into academies. A freedom of information (FoI) request revealed that the DfE had paid out £14m of taxpayers’ money to academy brokers between April 2010 and March 2014.5
- There is a lack of information in the public domain about RSC and HTB processes. Whereas every school is required to have a website containing certain specified information, there is very limited public information on the Government website about RSCs and HTBs.6 The main Government page provides the names of all RSCs and HTBs and brief ‘Records of meetings’ listing decisions taken.7 However, there is no record of the discussions which led to these decisions. At the very end of the page, there is an Excel sheet listing conflicts of interest for the RSC and HTB members. This may provide useful information for NUT members.
- The National Foundation for Education Research has produced a briefing giving details of the numbers of maintained schools and academies in each RSC region. It estimates the number of schools which each RSC will be expected to convert to academy status or ‘re-broker’ to another sponsor and raises concerns about the capacity of existing sponsors to take on these schools.8
- A 2014 report cast doubt on the ability of RSCs to adequately monitor academies. The report, ‘Conflicts of interest in academy sponsorship: A report for the Education Select Committee’ states: “The ability of the system to pick up on intangible conflicts that do not involve money seems almost non-existent. Hopes that the new Regional Commissioners will address these issues are low. There are almost certainly issues that will need to be addressed in relation to the new Head Teacher Boards.”9
- These views were echoed by Conservative Councillor David Simmonds, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board. In July 2015, Simmonds said: “With Regional Schools Commissioners strictly limited to overseeing academic standards, the early warning signs of failing, such as safeguarding concerns or financial problems, risk being overlooked. It is not acceptable that we have to wait for poor exam results or an Ofsted inspection to trigger intervention.” The LGA further commented that RSCs, “lack local knowledge and the capacity to undertake all problems associated with the rising failings of academies. Already a number of councils are reporting requests from RSCs requiring local authority support and parents are confused with the different regional boundaries assigned to them”.10
- RSCs are measured against performance indicators which include increasing the number of schools that become academies within their Region.11 There is a conflict of interest in simultaneously rewarding RSCs for turning schools into academies at the same time as tasking them with identifying schools for academisation.
- Yet the Education and Adoption Bill would increase the powers of RSCs in respect of forcing schools to become sponsored academies. Under the Bill, RSCs will identify so-called ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ schools to become academies and identify a sponsor for them. Schools, governors and local communities will no longer have a say over whether the school should become an academy or the identity of the sponsor. However, there is no evidence base to support the view that academy status can itself raise attainment or improve schools.12 Further information on the Bill, and the NUT’s campaign against it, is available on the NUT website.13
- The Education Select Committee began an Inquiry into Regional Schools Commissioners in September 2015. The NUT submitted evidence to the Inquiry which has been published on the Committee’s Inquiry page.14