October 2010

The know zone

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  • Filing down bureaucracy
    Proposals to reduce bureaucracy were at the centre of debate at ASCL’s September Council meeting, as was ensuring fairness for all in the education system as the academies programme begins to gather steam. More
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Proposals to reduce bureaucracy were at the centre of debate at ASCL’s September Council meeting, as was ensuring fairness for all in the education system as the academies programme begins to gather steam.

Filing down bureaucracy

Bureaucracy reduction
Plenary debate

ASCL has been asked by the DfE to nominate regulations, policies and other areas to axe in order to reduce bureaucracy. Following debate in all the committees, Council compiled a long list of possibilities. It was agreed that absolute clarity is essential about what is regulation and what is guidance. A change of mindset is needed: there should be no required policies at school/college level. Schools and colleges will do what is in the best interest of their community but they should be able to decide where policies are needed.

However, it was agreed that pay and conditions is one area in which a national framework and policies are useful in order that everything is above board and all staff members know where they stand. Abandoning the STPCD would create more, not less, work for school leaders. ASCL will share its list with politicians and advisers who are shaping the white paper.

Plenary debate

Council members reviewed a set of principles from the RSA for academies and discussed whether ASCL should adopt something similar. As the government is clearly committed to academy expansion, it was agreed that Council should develop a set of principles so that there is a clear statement of ASCL’s beliefs. These should be relevant and applicable to all schools, not only academies. The RSA principles need amending to fit ASCL’s broad membership but are a good starting point.

Funding for academies is a critical issue, given that other schools could suffer if enough in one local authority move to academy status and it becomes unviable for an LA to provide services. A principle endorsed by the Funding Committee was that no school should stand to gain or lose financially from becoming an academy.

Another principle endorsed was that all schools should have access to the same freedoms. Limiting academy status to ‘outstanding’ schools will widen rather than decrease the gap between rich and poor. A third principle is that schools and colleges must work in partnership and incentives should be in place to encourage this. It was agreed that an amended set of principles will come to the December Council.

Plenary debate

A paper with proposals to remove barriers to capability procedures was introduced, having been endorsed by the Professional Committee. It was agreed that the timescale for informal and formal capability processes must be severely reduced and it should be possible to continue with capability processes when the employee is absent due to illness.

There was debate as to whether informal processes are needed or whether that was the role of performance management. It was noted that the process applies to ASCL members as well, and must be fair to everyone.

Council agreed to support the broad principles in the paper, with some changes to the wording. The paper will feed into the government’s review of improving teacher quality.

To read the discussion paper click here.

Funding Committee

There was discussion of whether ASCL should advocate that the FMSiS (Financial Management Standard in Schools) be simplified or eliminated altogether. It was agreed that removal of FMSiS was not altogether desirable since it had introduced a level of accountability into school finance.

However, concerns were raised over the fact that it is compulsory, expensive and not implemented consistently among local authorities. There was also concern that whatever might replace FMSiS would be worse than keeping the current system.

The committee agreed the following position statement: “We believe that FMSiS should be retained, but that it should be voluntary, simplified and made more consistent, and the Ofsted requirement should be removed.”

Pupil premium indicator

The committee discussed the best proxy indicator to measure deprivation in the pupil premium. Although there had been strong support during the previous consultation for a combined indicator of FSM (free school meals) and IDACI (Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index), research showed that this proxy indicator does not appear to work particularly well.

The committee agreed to support an indicator of ‘free schools meals within the last six years’, as this was viewed as not perfect but more accurate than other options. It was felt that there was a need to keep searching for either a better proxy indicator or proof that a better indicator does not exist.

It was also agreed that it is more important for the method of calculating the pupil premium to be accurate, sensitive and fit for purpose than for it to be simple. This will be incorporated into ASCL’s response to the consultation on the premium.

Heads’ salaries
Pay and conditions

While Michael Gove backed down on the proposal to cap heads’ salaries at the level of the prime minster, currently £142,500, it is clear that he will revisit this in a broader review later in the year. The committee felt on the whole that there should be an upper limit to salaries but that there should be fair flexibility within a national framework. The limits should apply to all ISRs below and above the threshold.

In regard the requirement to publish staff salaries over £58,000 the committee agreed that it was difficult to oppose more transparency in the current climate, especially it applied across the public sector. However, it was agreed that ASCL will push for salaries to published in salary bands, with the number of staff that fall in each band, rather than to provide individual titles or names.

Curriculum review

With the government’s curriculum review getting underway, the committee discussed the broad principles of reform. Members agreed that the current National Curriculum for Key Stage 3 and 4 gives considerable flexibility and ASCL should fight to retain this. Clarity on qualification equivalences is needed.

Controlled assessment

Following the first year of controlled assessment, the committee reviewed issues to date. It was noted that many schools and some colleges had significant problems with logistics, such as IT provision, accommodating special needs and planning for fieldwork.

While the system supposedly was introduced to reduce cheating, this has not completely solved the problem. On the basis of the first year’s data, controlled assessment has not proven to be an improved and effective means of assessing students. JCQ has produced guidance which is available on the ASCL website.

Teacher registration

In light of the demise of the GTC(E), the committee discussed what functions, if any, should be retained elsewhere. It was agreed that a national registration system is needed in order to regulate fitness to teach, although the current system needs to be drastically streamlined. For instance public hearings and public referrals – which have come primarily from teachers – should be dropped.

More flexibility is needed in sanctions, for instance temporary bans are useful. To create parity, one system should be used to regulate schools and colleges. The question is which agency is in a position to take on this function and the committee did not come to a conclusion. ASCL will campaign along these lines in meetings with ministers and DfE officials.

Public and Parliamentary

In discussion about bureaucracy reduction, the committee agreed the following position statement: “We welcome the principle of reducing the amount of guidance sent to schools and colleges, in order to liberate leaders to focus on the things that matter. However, some guidance and policies can prevent constant reinvention of the wheel and can lead to more chance of equity across the system. We therefore propose that:

  • all guidance passes before the Bureaucracy Reference Group, so that school and college leaders are the gatekeepers
  • any guidance never exceeds two sides of A4
  • any additional reference material is made available online.”

The next Council meeting is 2-3 December in Coventry.

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