Jules Daulby blogs about some of her thoughts having attended the recent Headteachers’ Roundtable summit

It’s staggering that Gove could asset strip Local Authorities (LAs), give anyone with a heartbeat responsibility for running schools and take out the middle tier leaving accountability only between individual schools and central government. When he realised this, which most of us had known from the outset, the Department for Education (DFE) brought in school commissioners to solve the problem. Then they brought in more Regional Schools Commissioners, added in deputies, topped it off with a chief called the National Schools Commissioner and costs quickly soared to £26 million. Furthermore, large Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)  started to pay their CEOs up to £500 thousand a year while trustee boards agreed eye-watering expenses. This new system was supposed to save state education from costly LAs, liberate schools to determine their own destiny (despite the ever-increasing statutory tests Gibb imposes) and make all English schools outstanding.

If it were up to me, I would return to tried and tested systems such as Tim Brighouse’s work on improving Birmingham schools and The London Challenge. These could be examined closely to see what worked and why then replicated? Butterflies for School Improvement is still a great document. It is likely that in about twenty years’ time a return to LA control will come about but not before many more complicated systems have been trialled. Once the powers that be realise how when people who like money, who are not particularly interested in children (especially ones who either don’t do what they’re told or are not the ‘clever poor’) and who have an antipathy for public services are brought in, then running state schools like profit-based businesses does not work.

However, since it’s not up to me, until the DFE see sense there may be an interim solution which is more palatable to those who agree with the current thinking that Local Authorities should not run schools. This is the HoodInerney Model, launched at the recent Headteachers’ Roundtable 2018 Summit. This model (diagram below) has been created by Laura McInerney from Schools Week and Matthew Hood from the Institute of Teaching. It attempts to bring order to an increasingly anarchic, unregulated system.

Delegates were pitched the HoodInerney Model using football as the game, players being those running the educational system and rules which all involved must abide by. The analogy ensures all players have one job thus removing incentives for own goals. LAs for instance, cannot run schools due to a conflict with their other role which is to oversee admission, transport and SEND. Laura accepts there could still be LA schools, but they must work in the same way as MATs, therefore calling these schools, LA Trusts. Examples of current conflicts of interest, and why a change to this unregulated system is required were given by McInerney. Astonishingly, at present MAT trustees and relatives of CEOs can legally provide services to a school meaning a CEO’s sibling can audit her MAT’s finances.  There are more regulations for building a conservatory on your house than for the contracts between MATs and service providers. Even if a CEO’s brother could sell carpets cheaper than anyone else in the UK, it cannot be allowed under this new model because whether genuine or not, it just looks ‘dodgy’, Laura told delegates. The HoodInerney Model sets ground rules for fixing the game on the educational pitch. These are underpinned by openness and transparency which welcome public scrutiny and will not allow for any conflicts of interest.  Its simplicity is likely to be its workability.

The model gives the LA responsibility for transport, admissions and SEND. The former two work,  however the latter in my opinion is problematic: under the new game it breaks the rules.  Currently (and this does not change in the HoodInerney Model) the LA has two conflicting positions; SEND funding and assessing learners’ needs. A child with higher needs than is typical will be expensive and require more resources thus by giving the LA both roles, it is compromised. The current system has created a battleground for the family of children with SEND; victims in a more increasingly hostile environment. Local authorities are hiring expensive lawyers to defend their positions in court and these firms boast of beating families who have vulnerable children.  Despite this expense, 80% of SEND tribunals are found to be in favour of the parents suggesting LAs are committing professional fouls. It is precisely what Hood and McInerney are describing within other parts of the state education system, expenditure with no public scrutiny.

I propose an addition to the HoodInerney Model: A National Inclusion Commissioner (NIC).

The purpose would be to oversee high needs block funding for SEND, keep a national picture of inclusion and powers to scrutinise decision making for children who systems, unless led ethically, don’t want, cost money and take up resources.  NIC’s remit would cover SEND, patterns of exclusions, problems with off rolling, rising home education figures, alternative provision, virtual schooling and special schools plus strategic SEND components in the mainstream. The NIC would liaise closely with LAs and regions to examine trends and statistics, join up out of county placement procedures and oversee lengthy transport issues for children placed in special schools. This would be their only job as the player and would take out decision making at a local level on assessment but leaving them with allocating funds and provision.

State education needs a regulated authority for inclusion with real influence and who can work without the constraints of another role. It should hold regions to account for the educational provision of the most vulnerable in our society but also celebrate inclusive schools in the same way we hear RSCs and OFSTED praising high achieving ones. This commissioner would assess for the educational provision of children with the highest needs without having the perverse incentive to refuse resources due to funding.

Is this an addition the HoodInerney Model could stomach I wonder?

Hood told delegates, he’d be happy with this current chaotic system if it was transitioning to a better one but there was no evidence of a coherent plan coming from the Department of Education.  I agree, and one of the parts of state education which is failing the most is for students who no-one wants in their schools if they are obsessed with results alone.  It’s time we began rewarding inclusion from the highest level.