Even Academy sponsors are arguing for a "middle tier"

Francis Gilbert's picture
The dismantling of local authorities is having a harmful effect upon our school system because all the advice and support that they provided is no longer there. Furthermore, if parents have complaints about free schools or academies, they have nowhere to turn but the Department for Education. Now, even the Royal Society of Arts, the RSA, a well-known academy sponsor, is arguing for a middle tier of local school commissioners to supervise and monitor these schools -- as Sir Michael Wilshaw argued a while. A RSA report into the matter was published earlier this month and is worth reading because it makes a good case for shifting power away from Whitehall to the localities through the setting up of a school commissioners system. Although, it does prompt the question, why get destroy LAs in the first place when you only have to re-invent them in a different form?


The Missing Middle: The case for school commissioners
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/07/2012 - 12:02

"We also consider that the present arrangements tend to bring issues too quickly to Whitehall, with the result that the Secretary of State and Ministers are too likely to be involved in what are issues of local management rather than policy. There is something faintly ludicrous in the idea that only the Secretary of State in London can intervene if the governance of a village school in Cumbria breaks down, while the additional media attention which can arise from Ministerial involvement is unlikely to help a school."

This was written as long ago as 1996 in a Standards in Public Life report when grant-maintained (GM) schools existed. GM schools were the fore-runners of academies and funded directly from Whitehall.


"Ludicrous" sums up Mr Gove's enthusiasm for making schools independent of local authorities. He is creating a unwieldy system where all schools are directly accountable to the Secretary of State.

But there's no need for School Commissioners. There is already a middle-tier in existence - local authorities. They have local knowledge and are accountable locally. The electorate can remove any local council if necessary.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/07/2012 - 12:11

Commenting on the RSA report The Missing Middle: The Case for School Commissioners published today, Brian Lightman said:

“The RSA report highlights important issues about how and to whom schools should be accountable. I am yet to be convinced about the need for a regional sub tier of education commissioners, but the proposal merits consideration and will help to further the debate. With half of secondary schools no longer within local authority control, there needs to be some form of local accountability that sits in between schools and the secretary of state. The situation is very different depending on where you are in the country, and it would seem sensible to create local solutions which meet the needs of local communities.

“I am pleased that the report reinforces what ASCL has been saying for months about the unplanned and ad hoc way that new schools are being approved. ASCL has no objection to new schools opening in areas where there is a shortage of places, but this is not happening in the majority of cases. Creating new schools where they are not needed is a waste of tax payers’ money and, worse, risks damaging the education of children in nearby schools by creaming off scarce resources.”


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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 18/07/2012 - 19:56

Brian Lightman is the general secretary of one of the teachers' unions. Hardly the sort of person you should pray in aid, Janet.

It's a bit like quoting the chief exec of G4S in support of your views on efficiency or competence.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 18/07/2012 - 20:27

Are you suggesting that head teachers' opinions should not be heard Ricky?

Are you saying that instead English head teachers should be compared to the management of G4S? It seems so.

Is this because they are all so dull and stupid in comparison with Gove and his proven track record?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 08:57

Rebecca - I, too, am concerned that opposition voices are being silenced even when (especially when) they are reasoned and evidence-based. Michael Gove once said that the right to object was a fundamental right in a democratic society - he was correct. However, he seems to have forgotten that now he has power. Instead, the DfE PR machine trundles into action spewing out misinformation and soundbites from heads specifically recruited to provide support. Worse, we have the kind of rhetoric that says if you're not with Gove then you're against him and you had better get out of the way or you'll be crushed.

Remember, Mr Gove said he wanted a "cultural revolution just like the one they've had in China". As the Shanghai correspondent for the Telegraph (hardly an organ of left-wing thought) said - that revolution plunged China into "madness".


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 17:55

Did GOve really say that? I thought he was educated....what a T%%%%%

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:33

What about Opposition voices ( capital O ..i.e labour ....they seem completely disinterested in challenging Gove's policies.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:49

People were not geared up to challenge Gove's policies Rosie because in the past all views on education have shared vision of putting children at the centre of education. Nobody was prepared to counter a vision which put specific groups of Tory voters at the centre instead. This period of inaction lasted longer than it should have done because the systems of intelligent discussion were so completely and rapidly disabled with the closing of the consulting bodies, the clearing out of expertise at the DFE and the management of the media.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:50

I still can't believe that Cameron didn't fire him instantly for that one.

I also can't believe the level of indiscipline in government which allowed this to be published and his profound ignorance to be so exposed.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 08:40

No, Rebecca. I'm suggesting that we have heard quite enough from the likes of Brian Lightman, the teacher unions, the BERA crowd, the rest of the education establishment (particularly those now or formerly based in LAs) and the time has come to wrest education from the grip of these people. The purpose of the schools revolution is to change the world. This cannot be done if the old guard continue to occupy positions of influence paid for with taxpayers' money. A total clean-out of all those responsible for the failures of the past would be a good starting point.

As you never tire of reminding us, this is indeed happening - and at a pace rare in the public sector. Things will not be seriously transformed until the high-quality teachers represented by the Teach First generation occupy most of the senior leadership positions.... but heck, progress towards that end is certainly being made.

Either you're on the bus, or not on the bus. If you're not on the bus - get out out of the way.

As for Gove's 'track record': MG is perhaps rivalled only by IDS in terms of being seen as the SoS who has delivered in government what he promised in opposition. He's on a roll.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 12:33

'Either you’re on the bus, or not on the bus. If you’re not on the bus – get out out of the way.'

You are arguing for totalitarianism. In a democracy people are allowed, encouraged even, to dissent - as long as they can back up their arguments with sound reasoning and solid evidence. Otherwise how can we ensure that where the bus is going in the wrong direction or at the wrong speed that it isn't allowed to continue. Or are you arguing that politicians never get it wrong and that those with expertise, knowledge and experience on these matters should simply stand apathetically by and accept flawed policies

What many have argued on this forum and elsewhere is that the evidence base for promoting Academies and Free Schools as a means of improving educational standards is not compelling and the accompanying fragmentation of the system is untested and high risk. That isn't being obstructive - it's simply giving an appropriate level of challenge to what are very radical changes to our education system.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:27

I only became acquainted with the Teach First "charity" a few months ago which aims to promote teaching in challenging schools to the academic cream of the country ( financial incentives obviously) but I believe it was a Labour Government initiative.

From the start I was baffled at the idea that a First Class degree automatically meant that you were a superb communicator and could empower the most challenging pupils to aspire and achieve. It also occurred to me that the arrival of aTeach First candidate in an inner city school already paid more than the existing competent teachers must have pissed people off no end.

I know two Oxbridge people who decided to move into teaching in their mid 30's..they lasted 2 and 3 years apiece then scuttled back to the private sector not because of money but because they just simply couldn't deliver quality teaching.

There is a recent Sutton Trust Report ( 2009 I think) that rightly acknowledged that the number of male primary school teachers needed to be increased so they strongly advocated Primary Schools coalescing into multi-school Trusts .

The mInor advantages they acknowledged were pooling expertise and resources but their over-riding aim was that it would create a far more high profile career path ( i.e head of a trust) and therefore ......( wait for it wait for it )..attract more men.

So Sutton Trust identified that the problem causing to the challenges in Primary Education....is that there's not enough men in charge ....

Maybe female head teachers should automatically be issued with a prosthetic dick .something which Thatcher fully understood ( except she didn't strap it to her pubis..she kept it in her handbag and beat her cabinet round the head with it)

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 15:52

I am not arguing for totalitarianism; quite the contrary.

What has come close to that has been the way a self-perpetuating clique of teachers, bureaucrats and academics have monopolized education for thirty years, defying democratic will and sabotaging the reforms proposed by successive governments of both main parties.

People may dissent all they like, but they should not be able to use their positions on the public payroll to obstruct government policy or block reform.

They did this to Blair/Blunkett/Adonis.

Never again.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 16:22

sarah - I sometimes feel as if I'm living in Animal Farm where well-reasoned opposition is decried as heresy and described as being against the will of the animals, sorry people. The use of aggressive, war-like language is illuminating, as is the portrayal of properly-trained professionals, such as teachers and academics, as a kind of fifth column deliberately undermining the service to which they've dedicated their professional lives.

When Chairman Mao started the Cultural Revolution, one of the first tasks was to "remove" intellectuals by whipping up hatred against them. That Gove admires China's cultural revolution tells us much about him. He surrounds himself with sycophants on whom he pours lavish praise. And he expects those on the public payroll to submit to his diktats without a murmur. He forgets that those on the public payroll are responsible first and foremost to that public - it does a disservice to pupils not to speak out when Gove's policies are underpinned by little evidence and much rhetoric.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:35

in case it's not clear this " Men are the answer" report is one of the main reasons I despise the Sutton Trust ......

Andy's picture
Mon, 23/07/2012 - 16:07

Rosie, I am neither a support of nor in favour of males occupying positions in any form of employment on the basis of gender. And I am not about to articulate a defence against your perception of the Sutton Trust report to which you refer. I would however flag up that it is just possible that at the heart of the report was a poorly articulated recognition that there were, and still are, too few male teachers in primary schools. No this is not the fault of women, and to borrow from your allusion, neither should men rush out and buy a false vagina to wear over their genitals. Rather it is the fault of hysterical and irrersponsible media coverage relating to the trustworthiness of men around young children.

Just a thought or two.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 08:55

Funnily enough I've already commented on IDS this morning on JR's blog:

I thought his reforms collapsed because he completely failed to understand the complexity of defining individuals and households within the benefits system - something anyone who had actually spoken to someone who's been in management at the DSS can't fail to understand. But then perhaps that's only obvious if you've lived in Longbenton.

I've been posting along the lines of today's post on JR's blog for quite a while so perhaps IDS has tuned in already?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 09:42

Ach no - looking at the internet it seems IDS is still gibbering on with stuff that doesn't understand how society operates and therefore won't work. Just like Gove.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 09:42

I don't want to be tempted into OT territory for long, but your statement I thought his reforms collapsed .... is one of the more bizarrely wrongheaded ones I've seen you come up with for quite a while.

Collapsed? They are a wild success. This week the DWP released figures showing that 1700 of the 56,000 families likely to be affected by the benefits cap have already (8 months before the policy bites!) left the benefits roll and a further 5,000 are making the transition. And not only is the policy effective, but it's popular too. In fact, Conservative private polling confirms it as one of the most popular initiatives of recent political history.

Just as you think Gove's policies aren't working, you say the same about IDS's. Do you live in a small bubble populated only by leftie nay-sayers? You should get out more.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 17:57

As you well know Ricky I'm a Lib Dem. I've never been remotely left wing although I have some excellent relationships with politicians of all parties who I respect on a personal basis. I believe firmly in the political philosophy of devolving power unless it is clearly efficient and beneficial not to and retaining transparency and consultation in such cases.

I believe democracy should operate by encouraging those with expertise in the relevant area and exceptional understanding of systems and society developing and scrutinising policy through full consultation and professional transparent processes.

Are you feeling the need to create straw men to feed your paranoia again Ricky? You can through darts at them but it's useful to remember that those darts won't hit me because they are aimed at your straw men. I think it'll be hard for you to come close to being able to significantly criticise me as you don't seem to understand what I'm saying a lot of the time.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 18:06

One of my bugbears with the Free School and Academy issue ( i'm pragmatic anti) is the fact that few anti- posters would ever acknowledge that some LEA's in some are fallible and need to up their game.

We are celebrating the recent "innovation" in BIrmingham....but it's always been obvious that schools and Leas need to be critical friends to each other if LEas are to survive.

My particular issue with my own LEA is that
a) their idea of risk management is to mitigate their liability not actually the risk ( I am from a construction background and know full well the difference) and
b) if politely challenged they respond with dogmatic incompetence usually involving lost correspondance etc.
c) They have the standard exemplary policy for pupils needing robust and quality literacy interventions. BUT they pass the buck to the school and completely fail to police the policy on behalf of parents.Hence pupils are subject to the opinions of the head teacher ( we had a primary one , thankfully now gone , who thought middle class parents should just accept the fact their child was thick or at the low end of average and refused to invest in intervention training)

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 20:39

Spot on, Rosie.

their idea of risk management is to mitigate their liability not actually the risk .... a consistent and universal feature of dysfunctional, bureaucratic organizations.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 20:52

"few anti- posters would ever acknowledge that some LEA’s in some are fallible and need to up their game"
Can you come up with an example of such a person Rosie?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 10:27

Rosie - you are correct, local authorities are not infallible - it's as misguided to bleat "All LAs good, all academies bad" as it is to bleat "Academies good, all LAs and community schools bad " (although the latter is heard more stridently and more often).

Lincolnshire, for example, has washed its hands of its schools and advised them all to become academies. Lincolnshire's failings are well-aired on this site. Here is one example:


So, yes, LAs are not infallible. But councils can be removed by the electorate. Academy chains can't be. And who will intervene if an academy is providing an unacceptable level of education?

As mentioned in my first post above - it is ludicrous to expect the DfE to become involved in the problems of a school in Cumbria or anywhere else in England. Local authorities are in a unique position to intervene - and incompetent local authorities should be held to account and removed.

Andy's picture
Mon, 23/07/2012 - 16:24

Rosie, I am 4 square behind your comments.

A few years ago several LEAs (prior to being retitled LAs) failed Ofsted inspections and as such were named and shamed as 'Failed/Failing' LEAs (e.g. Northumberland in 2003/04). For many this seemed to do the trick and following rigorous scrutiny some senior heads rolled, new blood was brought in and LEAs were turned around. I don't recall that happening in recent years.

To extend your statement about not knowing the difference between liability and risk, I would suggest that too many LAs fail to accept that they can delegate tasks but not responsibility for their activities.

It has also been the case that in too many LAs the education jobs has been operated on the basis of sideways promotions and positions for the 'insiders'. Not as it should be, post for those best placed, best qualified and with demonstrable skills, competence and track records. The tradition of 'if your face fits' must be broken once and for all.

My biggest fear about the Academy/Free School programme is not simply that it is a vehicle to drive through key Conservsative policies (e.g. breaking the national pay bargaining and unqualified teachers per se), it is that they are the platform for the privatisation of state schooling. That is to say, the taxpayer funds the schools and bankrolls the operation but private companies get paid to come in and run them. This leads not only to handsome profits to manage the schools but they also get to keep the reductions produced by regional/local pay bargaining and reduced on-cost by employing staff to teach who are not qualified to access the Teachers Pension Scheme.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 10:37


Although incompetent LAs theoretically can be removed, they very seldom have been. To a much higher degree than is sensible, geography decides political complexion in much of England.

So, how about directly elected schools commissioners, on much the same basis as elected Police commissioners?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/07/2012 - 06:27

Andy - you are correct, the academy conversion programme opens up the way for schools to be run for profit. It already happens to some extent when sponsors sell services to their academies (the NAO warned about this) or when providers cloak themselves in the banner of "social enterprise".


Mr Gove made it clear that he did not oppose schools being run for profit before the last election but his ideas were not widely publicised because the Tories would have lost support ("potato was a bit too hot to touch”). Gove was speaking at the launch of a Policy Exchange/New Schools Network report entitled "Blocking the Best: Obstacles to new, independent state schools". The report makes it clear that making state schools "independent" means they could in the future be run for profit.



Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 11:13

When there is failure in local adminsitrations it is often the case that good people become motivated to stand in local elections.

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