At Prime Minister’s question time on 20 April 2016 Jeremy Corbyn asked:
“Could the Prime Minister explain why he is intent on forcing good and outstanding schools to become academies against the wishes of teachers, parents, school governors and local councillors?”
David Cameron replied in terms of letting headteachers, not local authorities ‘run’ schools:
“We want schools to be run by headteachers and teachers, not by bureaucrats”.
“In truth, academies and greater independence, and letting headteachers run their schools, has been hugely effective”
“Creating academies is true devolution because we are putting power in the hands of headteachers and teachers.”
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This was an extraordinary answer. Ever since the 1988 Education Reform Act, and in many cases long before that, local authorities have not ‘run’ schools other than contributing to the appointment of headteachers. But the local authorities have provided extensive, and for primary schools, essential, services. How can the Prime Minister be unaware that local authorities do not control schools?
RESPONSIBILITIES OF HEADTEACHERS
A website called MyJobSearch.com[i] sets out in detail the responsibilities of a headteacher. The only reference to a local authority is as an ‘audience’ for school performance reports.
A head teacher is the most senior teacher and leader of a school, responsible for the education of all pupils, management of staff, and for school policy making. Head teachers are the most senior teachers and leaders of primary and secondary schools, sixth-form colleges and, less commonly, further education colleges. There are around 18,000 primary school and 3,500 secondary school head teachers in England. Head teachers are ultimately responsible for the smooth running of a school, the academic achievement of its pupils and the management of its staff. …
Some head teachers have a few teaching responsibilities, but in general the large proportion of their work is the day-to-day management, organisation and administration of the school in order to create a productive, disciplined learning environment. Specifically, the head teacher’s main responsibilities involve:
▪ Formulating overall aims and objectives for the school and policies for their implementation
▪ Working with governors and senior colleagues to deploy staff effectively and recruit new staff
▪ Meeting with other education professionals, and representing the school at conferences and other events outside the school in the local community and nationwide
▪ Motivating, training and disciplining staff
▪ Ensuring the motivation of the pupils
▪ Ensuring an infrastructure is in place in which all members of staff and pupils feel they can register their opinions on serious matters, and have a route via which they can communicate problems to senior members of staff
▪ Ensuring the good financial management of the school
▪ Ensuring the school is up-to-date with innovations, from teaching practices to new technologies
▪ Reporting on the school’s performance to a range of audiences, including governors, the Local Education Authority, the local community, Ofsted and others
▪ Managing accommodation (e.g. classrooms) effectively to meet the needs of the curriculum and Health & Safety requirements
▪ Assuming responsibility for other legal matters in the day-to-day running of the school
▪ Assuming responsibility for pastoral care of pupils where necessary
▪ Resolving major disciplinary issues with pupils, including working in partnership with police & social services.
In some schools, head teachers must also establish and maintain links or partnerships with businesses.
In my experience this is an accurate ‘job description’. My late wife was a primary school headteacher and after she died I wrote a case study in memory of her headship of 1991-2001. I described her as a “master of all trades, jack of none” and devoted 33 pages to her various roles:
Teacher, Chief executive, Leader of the changing school curriculum, Leader of the school’s assessment work, Leader of school development planning, Chancellor of the exchequer under LMS, Leader of the Ofsted defence team, Head of security, Head of personnel, Overseer of teacher appraisal, and School governor.
A note in the case study is relevant to the involvement of local authorities as school support.
Penny was well supported by County Hall and Area Office officials in getting LMS running, in personnel support, in school development planning, in visits by local inspectors, in developing teacher appraisal, and in many other ways. In her early years as a head they provided essential support and guidance in the form of sensible advice, not instruction. One quotation from a report to the governors says much:
Mr T.. H.., area education officer, leaves the authority to take up a new post in Warwick. We wish him well. He will be sadly missed by me as he has provided our school with much support in the past ten years.
How did local government affect the education of the children? Probably not directly, but indirectly because it gave strong support to the school. It helped teachers get on with their appointed task – of educating the children.
No doubt, across the country, many headteachers, particularly of primary schools, could echo these remarks.
Looking at the job description given by MyJobSearch there can be little doubt that it is the headteacher who “runs the school” – not the local authority. The Prime Minister is at least 30 years out-of-date!
However, contrary to the Prime Minister’s statements, there is evidence that in joining an academy chain, schools may lose some of the autonomy that they have had as local authority schools.
The legal experts BrowneJackson[ii] in a ‘briefing note’ on multi-chain academy trusts (MAT) say:
A MAT is a group of academies with one legal entity and three levels of governance – Members, Board of Directors and Local Governing Bodies. The Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for running each academy and will deal with the strategic running of the MAT. The Board then typically delegates day-to-day running of each academy to a local governing body (LGB). The level of delegation can be different for each academy. … The approach is suitable for schools that want to collaborate at all levels through the organization. Concerns can arise regarding feelings of loss of autonomy and balancing loss of autonomy with the benefits of support and sharing of resources is key. (My italics. MB)
Writing in The Tail[iii] Sophie Blakeway, director of Education of the 34 Ark academies[iv] in the UK describes what happens in their academies.
The ARK curriculum includes 12 hours of literacy a week in Key Stage 1, 10 in KS2 and 5 in KS3. Our primary literacy curriculum includes discrete spelling and handwriting lessons and at least 45 minutes of synthetic phonics a day until mastered, as well as regular out-loud class story reading … All secondary pupils study mathematics for at last five hours per week. AKK’s Mathematical Mastery curriculum teaches fewer topics in greater depth to ensure that no child falls behind. Every concept or skill that is introduced is taught so that it is mastered by every child. ... By operating a longer school day (typically 8.30 am to 4 pm in our primary schools and 8.30 am to 4.30 pm in our secondary schools) Ark academies are able to make time for catch-up while still providing a broad subject offer.
It may, or may not, provide a worthwhile education for every child, but it certainly suggests that the Ark headteachers (or principals) are told how to organise their academies and have not ‘the power in their hands’ as indicated by the PM!
INSPIRE MULTI-ACADEMY TRUST
The website of the Inspire Multi-Academy Trust[v] makes one wonder what the role of the headteachers in their academies will be. It states:
Our vision is to create a family of outstanding schools with clear purpose, direction and objectives. Where teaching and learning is paramount and children enjoy and engaged in a rich and relevant curriculum tailored to their individual needs ensuring empowerment of all pupils to achieve their full potential. … The Inspire Multi Academy Trust will lead and support in striving for excellence in teaching and learning …”
(“Where teaching and learning are paramount”? Are there any schools that are otherwise?)
TOLLBAR MULTI-ACADEMY TRUST
Another website invites schools to join the Tollbar[vi] “family of academies” which entails:
“ceding its governance to the Multi Academy Trust, whilst retaining management autonomy proportionate to its current performance.”
Whether these trusts are typical of all multi-academy chains is uncertain but the Socialist Educational Association commentary[vii] on the White Paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ suggests that loss of autonomy may be widespread.
The government claims it is devolving power “to the front line”. But actually schools in academy chains lose most of their autonomy – the chain controls their premises, budget, staffing, curriculum. Chains have far more power over schools than local authorities do.
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SCHOOL BUREAUCRACY IS NATIONAL NOT LOCAL
The bureaucracy that affects local authority schools comes from national not local government: in the form of the national curriculum. The stated aim is “to provide pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens”. Brave words, but poorly executed with excessive zeal by sub-groups who forgot that teachers are trained, educated people working in schools with substantial experience of nurturing the all-round growth of young people.
The latest version, published in May 2015, contains for primary schools 201 pages and embraces over 700 statements, covering the age range from year one to year six, each preceded by the instruction: “Statutory requirement”. These statements stretch from the obvious (“Pupils should be taught to: listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers” and “Pupils should be taught to recognise that sounds get fainter as the distance from the sound source increases.”) to the specific (“Pupils should be taught to: apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words” and “Pupils should be taught of “the Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor”) to the bizarre (“Pupils should be taught to use running, jumping, throwing and catching in isolation and in combination”). No surprises that teachers are stressed with overwork and many saying that they want to leave teaching. One can wonder how it is that those of us who were schooled before the national curriculum actually acquired the skills and knowledge that we variously have.
N C NOT REQUIRED OF ACADEMIES
The intensity of the national curriculum is ridiculous but what is worse is that it is not required of schools that become academies. Is this a blatant incentive to persuade schools to move away from local authority support? Academy pupils are subject to the same tests as local authority schools, but how they prepare pupils for them is up to them. As indicated above, it is not clear how many of the multi-academy trusts give headteachers the freedom that the Prime Minister commends.
It is the national curriculum that is the bureaucratic load on schools, which comes from national government. If the Government is serious about removing bureaucracy from schools there is a simple measure: enact that the national curriculum be a guideline not a statutory requirement for all schools.
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The evidence is that David Cameron does not understand who runs our state schools now and may be misguided over the future administration of academies.
REFERENCES (as seen on 21 April 2016)
[iii] The Tail: how England’s schools fail one child in five – and what can be done Ed: Paul Marshall, Profile Books 2013
This page was posted on 21April 2016 by Michael Bassey