Agenda item

Update on Central Government Reforms to Education

Minutes:

The Director of Education, Learning and Skills introduced the report, which sought to capture the implications not just of the new government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, but also a range of other central government initiatives which would affect schools and their relationship with the local authority. The following key points were made:

 

  • The Education and Adoption Act was now law; this allowed the Secretary of State to force failing or coasting schools to become academies. The definition of “coasting” would be provided in forthcoming regulations following consultation late last year but would be based on pupils’ progress over a three year period which could be retrospective
  • Whilst it had been announced on 5 May that schools would no longer all be forced to become academies, the general direction of travel still appeared to be very much towards the academy model
  • Proposals for the national funding formula for schools would give rise to a flatter funding settlement across the country, and this could have a negative impact in Lambeth
  • New national and regional schools commissioners would be in charge of academy conversion and oversee academy chains
  • A new national curriculum and revised assessment arrangements were being introduced – including a change in gradings from a letter to a number-based system from 2017 – and there would be new definitions of what success and failure looked like
  • Lambeth’s schools had been moving towards greater autonomy over the last few years and worked in 10 clusters. These clusters were geographical and included schools of varying governance type and phase
  • Half of the secondary schools and three primaries in the borough were academies currently. Quite a lot of networking and mutual support took place and the Council planned to continue supporting this approach
  • If clusters wished to convert to multi-academy trusts (MATs) in future, they were in a good position to do so. Whether this happened or not, there was still a desire to work together as a borough
  • Local Authorities could not currently sponsor academy chains but were able to set up a trading arm and create a subsidiary which then could do so
  • The Council was working with schools on exploring the possibility of an overarching partnership or trust which all schools would be part of regardless of governance

 

In response to questions from members of the commission, the following points were made:

 

  • Regarding funding, Lambeth currently did well due to its high levels of deprivation and high proportion of EAL pupils, but it was likely these factors would be given less weight in future
  • More deprived areas would still get higher levels of pupil premium but there was no plan in the new formula to differentiate between different schools within an area
  • Currently, funding went via the Local Authority and was scrutinised by the schools forums; under the new plans budgets would go directly to schools from the DfE so there was no opportunity for the Council to influence or adjust the money given to individual schools (though MATs would be able to do this)
  • In response to a question regarding how education officers’ posts would be paid for, the Director of Education, Learning and Skills stated that part of the dedicated schools grant could be used, with the agreement of the schools forum. There was also an educational services grant and in future it was likely there would be a Local Authority block grant which would contain an element to cover the responsibilities which would be retained by the Council, such as SEN and pupil place planning, though it was not known how much this would amount to
  • The Council had responded to the first funding consultation but there would be a second one looking at finer details. It was hoped responses to this could highlight issues such as pupil need around EAL, deprivation and area costs, such as the cost of recruiting teachers in inner London. Councillor Davie suggested that all councillors be alerted to the consultation and how they might participate, noting that many councillors may also have contact with other interested parties and groups
  • On teacher recruitment and retention, Lambeth had two teaching schools which ran teacher training, as well as a support programme for newly qualified teachers. Advice was also offered on a range of issues such as housing, and many younger teachers shared accommodation. However, most of these young teachers could not afford to settle down in the borough and therefore tended to move elsewhere, meaning there was a real gap between younger and older teachers. It was necessary to look at creative ways to tackle this, possibly including initiatives around key worker housing
  • Regarding paragraph 5.1, p95, there had been little clarification in the Queen’s speech. It was assumed that the Education for All Bill which was mentioned would be another enabling act and that the detail – such as on local authority involvement in MATs – would emerge in regulations further down the line
  • In response to a question concerning retention of local authority staff, it was stated that three school improvement advisors had recently left and another would be going soon. One new advisor had been recruited but the situation was difficult. There were currently two school improvement advisors alongside the Director for Education, Learning and Skills and a number of associate advisors (who tended to be heads elsewhere). It was noted that this was a critical role and improvement advisors needed to be well qualified

 

The Deputy Cabinet Member for Children and Schools summed up this item by stating that schools in the borough greatly valued the role of the local authority in education, particularly in areas such as planning and strategy as well as mediating and communicating. Schools were worried about the future and the report was extremely helpful in pulling together and summarising the key issues. Officers were being vigilant in preparing for likely eventualities, including being ready to work in partnership, but she did not agree with the ideological reduction of the role of local authorities. She and the lead Cabinet Member would do what they could to help as a communication channel between officers and other councillors.

 

In summing up the commission, Councillor Davie thanked the borough’s schools, teachers, pupils, parents and education department for supporting the high level of excellence in Lambeth’s schools, noting that this was particularly important in an area with high levels of deprivation such as Lambeth in order to enable people to overcome sometimes impoverished backgrounds and go on to live rewarding lives. He also thanked officers and members of the commission for their valuable input and highlighted the following key issues which had emerged from the meeting:

 

  • The commission recognised and saluted the improvement in the borough’s schools as evidenced by the reports, though noted its concern regarding the relative underperformance of certain groups, particularly Black Caribbean, Mixed White and Black Caribbean, and Portuguese children, as well as the number of those with Caribbean heritage in the school exclusion data. The research into underachievement in Black Caribbean pupils was particularly welcome, since this particular group were disproportionately represented in so many other cohorts, such as in social care, victims and perpetrators of crime, unemployment and mental health needs. Lambeth had a big responsibility to show leadership on this issue due to the significant proportion of BME residents in the borough, and Councillor Dyer’s comments regarding making connections with communities were especially pertinent
  • It was noted that officers were of the opinion that the new curriculum could have a negative effect on a diverse borough like Lambeth, and the commission would like to know more about this, including what it could do to help
  • More comparative data would be useful to explore the reasons why attainment levels dropped off post 16; it would also be helpful to explore whether anything needed to be done to increase capacity in the borough
  • A review of pre-exclusion support was requested, and representations should be made to the DfE to expand its descriptors to provide more information on the reasons for exclusions
  • Commission members wished to be informed as to what role they and others could play in the consultation on school funding
  • More information was requested on what opportunities might exist to develop some kind of overarching partnership trust in order that links with schools could continue in the way they valued, regardless of forthcoming legislation
  • A paper was requested on key worker housing to explore whether more could be done to provide housing for teachers
  • A letter would be sent to Archbishop Sumner School reflecting the commission’s views on the unauthorised bulge classes it had decided to take

 

Supporting documents: