This week, I reflected on internal school organisation that supports the delivery of a broad, balanced and relevant experience for both staff and children. This is the bread and butter of education, that, each and every day, every child should receive the best quality of education that can be provided at that school.
Using the term, “at that school” is somewhat loaded, in that the school is provided by an external authority. The quality and repair of the building fabric is determined by someone other than those whose job it is to make the best use of the place. Quality can range from brand new and purpose built to almost condemned, but not quite yet as there’s no extra money.
Under Local Authorities, birth data for different areas were used to predict the need for school places over the foreseeable future, from infant to secondary. This might mean extension of some facilities, while others might become less needed, with amalgamation as an option. Local decisions were made my locally responsible people. Parents and Governors could lobby or make representations to local representatives. Decisions, in favour or against, could be addressed at a local election.
Rapid advice across a wide spectrum of need could be available with a couple of well-directed phone calls. Under Local Management of Schools (LMS), schools could make financial decisions for themselves, or choose to participate in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with Local authority provision. An example might be the School Library Service, which, for an annual fee, ensured the regular exchange of a significant number of books, ICT support and free training for librarians. As the budget was school controlled, decisions that affected that school, on a day to day basis, as well as longer term, such as staffing, could be made. Where economies were made, these could be used to make decisions on the “nice to have” elements.
Teacher supply, through ITE departments of universities, was generally assured, and certainly quality assured by the awarding of Qualified Teacher Status to trainees completing their 1 year PGCE or a 3 year undergraduate course. Quality assured, from selection through to qualification, ratified after their Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) year, then through competency procedures when in post, all judged against the Teacher Standards, allowed the profession qualified status. Becoming an outstanding teacher takes time, reflection and personal development.
That some areas historically have found difficult in attracting staff, with consequent difficulties in learning outcomes, cannot be denied. There have always been “popular” schools, attracting good staff, who, quite often, then choose to stay where they can establish greater equilibrium in their lives. These schools become successful over time, remain over-subscribed, ensuring continual budget and continue to succeed, with locality house sales sought by new parents wanting school places. Higher prices drive up their aspiration.
Stability is a very sound place within which to develop strong structures, capable of dealing with changes, expected and unexpected, whereas the opposite is also true. Instability in staffing does not allow a clear narrative to be developed, nor to be sustained, as staff turn-over reduces the “Tribal Memory” of the school, requiring constant reinvention, in an environment that requires a period of sustainable calm, to enable development.
So how do we achieve the perfect state? Probably never, because education is based around people and people don’t always function perfectly all the time.
However, there are some key points which must be in place.
An identifiable authority ( as local as possible) to provide the essential infrastructure, including repair and maintenance, required as a result of local birth and building data that ensures that all buildings meet an agreed national minimal standard.
Finances should be known over, preferably, a three year period, to enable local decision making and the smooth provision of human and physical resources to fully effect an efficient education for all children.
High quality teacher provision should be a national priority, based on the qualified teacher system. This is the only way that professionals can ultimately be held to account in exceptional circumstances.
Where Local Authorities have been responsible for education, and many have now been run down, it is proposed that systems of smaller Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) will take over responsibility. Where these are geographically dispersed, local quality might be compromised, as advisors and assessors have to travel long distances to address issues.
The DfE doesn’t have the capacity to run 25000 schools, nor do the eight Regional Schools Commissioners, nor, occasionally, do the already existing Academy chains, even relatively small ones.
(Personally, I’d rather have seen LAs maintained, strengthened (and regularly inspected) to oversee whatever structure is developed within their locality, to quality assure provision for the people who elect representatives as councillors. Local accountability should be maintained.)
Quality Assurance is currently in the hands of Ofsted. This has been adapted and continually looks to do so, to support school judgements.
And, to finish on a slightly peevish note. None of the proposed changes are actually necessary. There is the argument about raising standards, which was articulated in the last Government by David Laws, the then schools’ minister, who argued that, at KS2 children should reach a level 4b to be “secondary ready”. Levels were promptly abandoned and a new, “more challenging”, “national standard” introduced, by Nick Gibb. They may have had flaws and, over time, been misused, but levels did give a national benchmark and professional vocabulary for moderating discussion.
If, instead of all the effort that has been expended over the past six years, a simple question had been asked of the teaching profession, in year one of the 2010 Government, “How can we get more children to level 4b, in maths, reading and writing?”, with a national dialogue, not only would improvement have been achieved earlier, but significant professional development might have ensued.
A little more understanding of education, a great deal of well thought through strategy, better and clearer communication and dialogue, bringing in all “stakeholders”, and a great deal less hot air and bluster.
That’s how schools get better. Moderation is needed.
- If moderation occurs across a school, there is common assent to decisions regarding achievement and progress expectations.
- Teaching is, after all, a team game, each stage reliant on the previous one.
- If moderation occurs across schools, an area wide understanding occurs.
- If outcomes of National testing are seen as moderation, the outcomes could provide exemplar material to support internal moderation.
- If moderation became a common tool across all schools, supported by external expertise, as necessary, there would be a reduced need for formal testing, so we could save money on SATs testing.
- If specialist in-house teachers became (nationally accredited) trained moderators and mentor, for internal and external use, the use of such people would provide opportunities for mass CPD and lead to higher expectations, based on a common understanding.
- If lesson observations became a moderation exercise, based on the common agenda of the teaching standards, then feedback would be developmental. Nobody is perfect all the time.
- If Ofsted and other assessment/inspection visits were moderation visits, to validate the judgements of the internal moderation team, we would establish expectations common to every school in the country.
- If Ofsted inspectors moderated each other, the judgements across every establishment would be consistent.
- If judgements across every classroom in every school in the country were common, as a national educational establishment we would make progress.
- A bit of joined up, strategic thinking, would not go amiss.
We are talking of little people’s life chances.