The role of regional schools commissioners is ‘confused’, say MPs

The role of the regional schools commissioner (RSC) is “confused” and “lacking in transparency”, a panel of MPs has warned.

The position of commissioner has become increasingly powerful as­ the number of academies continues to grow, but the Commons education select committee believes the role remains “unclear”.

In its report to be published later today, the committee warns that a more fundamental reassessment of accountability and oversight for all schools will be needed in the future.

RSCs were introduced in 2014 in a bid to provide oversight to the growing number of academies and free schools. Eight commissioners were hired to oversee eight regions of the country, but as the committee’s report points out: “The roles now form part of an increasingly complicated system of oversight, accountability and inspection.”

Neil Carmichael, chair of the committee, said the role of the RSC was a product of the Department for Education’s “acting first, thinking later” approach to education policy.

The Conservative MP said the government needed to do more to improve the coherency of the commissioner’s role in the school system.

“Regional schools commissioners were introduced as a pragmatic response to a problem – the growing number of academies and the need for oversight of them. They’re doing a necessary job, but the oversight system is now confused, fragmented, and lacking in transparency,” Mr Carmichael said.

“It’s hardly surprising that most people have never heard of RSCs, and even those who have are unclear about their role. RSCs are a product of the Department’s ‘acting first, thinking later’ approach when it comes to big changes in the schools landscape.”

And he added: “The DfE needs to take a long hard look at this picture once the number of academies stabilises, and design a more coherent system for the future which ensures proper accountability for schools.”

The committee calls on the government to redesign the RSC regions so they are the same as those of Ofsted. MPs also urged ministers to rethink their decision to divide London into three RSC regions, which it branded “unnecessarily disruptive”.

The report was widely welcomed by heads’ and teachers’ leaders, who have raised concerns over the lack of transparency around the role of RSCs.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said local communities have been left with little accountability of their schools following the “desperate drive” to turn all schools into academies.

“This is a situation that cannot continue,” he said. “While the NUT remains of the view that elected local authorities are best placed to have oversight of local schools, many of the education committee’s recommendations to hold RSCs to account are a step in the right direction.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said it supported the call for greater clarity on the “division of responsibilities between RSCs, local authorities and Ofsted”.

The committee’s report states that due to the level of freedom and responsibility the commissioners enjoy, they must be clearly accountable for their work.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The decisions made by RSCs affect the lives of school leaders, teachers, students, families and communities. It is therefore essential that the process is as transparent as possible so that people can fully understand the rationale for decisions and have confidence in the system.”

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