To discuss with the Regional Schools Commissioner the key challenges for Education in Rotherham
The Chair welcomed Mr. John Edwards, Regional Schools Commissioner (East Midlands and the Humber Region) to the meeting.
Mr. Edwards gave a brief introduction to his role and responsibilities. The Commissioner’s region covered 17 local authority areas. There were 8 Regional Schools Commissioners working to a National Commissioner, and were accountable to the relevant Ministers for delivery of Ministerial priorities.
As Senior Civil Servants, the Commissioners had certain delegated decision making powers on behalf of the Secretary of State in relation to academies. These included identifying sponsors for inadequate maintained schools; making changes to academies and the formation of Multi-Academy Trusts; working with Local Authorities, Diocese and other related partners; making decisions on Free Schools and overseeing the ‘school improvement offer’ for those trusts who met the criteria.
Academies were educational charities, funded directly by Government to deliver education and regulated by Ofsted. The Commissioners work with academies to ensure that they were underpinned by sound governance and finance to deliver good educational outcomes. Within the region, the Commissioner outlined that there were 1,285 Academies; with more than 170 Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and a similar number of single academy trusts. His teams worked with the academies to support and challenge improvements.
Through academies, a school-led system of improvement was developing, supporting those schools where progress was needed to be made and sustaining good outcomes for schools which were successful. As part of a Trust, schools could access specific support improvement support, including specialist assistance with Maths and English and school leadership. Examples were given of specialist hubs and teaching schools based in Rotherham.
Focusing on Rotherham, the Commissioner highlighted that 65% of all Primary Schools were academies, working in single or MATs. All but one of Rotherham Secondary Schools were academies. Most of the large Trusts were based within the area and whilst this brought benefits of building capacity within the Borough, there was a challenge to ensure that good practice from elsewhere was shared to support improvements.
It was noted that Rotherham outcomes had not kept pace with improvements that had taken place nationally. The Commissioner gave a commitment to work with Trusts and individual schools within the Borough to drive improvement and leadership.
In response to a question about the rising numbers of children who were being Elective Home Educated (“home schooled”) and comparisons with the national picture, the Commissioner outlined that the Government had recently commissioned the “Timpson Review” which had looked at a range of issues, including exclusions, Elective Home Education and children missing from education and would consult on proposals in due course. The Assistant Director for Education clarified that data was available and work was underway to analyse trends and good practice which would be submitted to a future meeting of the Commission. Responsibility for the safeguarding of children who were home education remained with the local authority.
Clarification was sought on the work underway regionally and nationally to support schools which had larger numbers of newly-arrived pupils, particularly those who joined the school roll after the standard transfer date and the challenge of working with transient populations. It was observed that there were some local authorities in the Commissioner’s region which were facing greater challenges in this respect. The Local Authority had a responsibility to secure a school place and trusts and maintained schools had a responsibility to ensure the student could transition into the provision. There was a range of approaches adopted by Trusts and Maintained Schools across the region to mitigate the impact, this included school liaison and language acquisition support, use of the Pupil Premium, sessions to familiarise students and families with the UK school system and specific pastoral support for children with additional vulnerabilities. The funding allocation was based on a number of criteria and provided a predictable platform for resources. The expectation, therefore, was that school leaders would use the funding allocated to meet the needs of its pupils accordingly.
The Commissioner was asked to outline how good practice was shared between schools and Trusts around the region. It was stated that this was done through a variety of means, including a formal accreditation process, bringing together national leaders of education, research-based schools in addition to the teaching schools, hubs and funded school improvement offer cited earlier. Many local areas had education partnerships providing formal brokerage and informal networks and there was an expectation that school leaders would share good practice amongst themselves.
Views were sought from the Commissioner on how well Rotherham shared good practice and the level of collaboration between the Local Authority and Trusts. The Commissioner outlined that he had been appraised of the Rotherham Education Strategic Partnership (RESP) by the Strategic Director and Assistant Director and had offered thoughts on its development. He observed that Rotherham had strong teaching schools in the Borough, leading school improvement, training teachers and reaching out to other schools in the area. He perceived that there was a commitment that the Local Authority would drive a strategic partnership and willingness for Trusts to engage in this.
Further details were sought on improving educational outcomes, in particular if the Local Authority recognised the challenge and if it had a grip on what improvements were required. The Commissioner stated that there was recognition from senior officers and an ambition to make necessary improvements. In working with Trusts, the Commissioner issued challenge to improve outcomes at all levels. He observed that coming together in a local area could identify were problems arose and draw on good practice to address concerns accordingly.
1) That the Regional School Commissioner be thanked for his presentation
2) That a report be submitted by the Assistant Director for Education on Elective Home Education to a future meeting.