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Let ‘national improver’ trusts support struggling schools

Effective academy trusts should be labelled as “national school improvement leaders” and commissioned by government to provide expertise to struggling schools, a new report has said.

The Confederation of School Trusts, which represents academy trusts in England, has also called for regulation system changes to allow for “softer” interventions in such schools.

Its new paper, ‘School improvement architecture’, also called for a redesign of accountability “triggers”, including the scrapping of the government’s controversial “double-RI” coasting measure.

In the paper, the CST proposed an “evolution of the existing accountability, regulatory and support architecture in the school system in order to provide a more sophisticated, effective and proportionate approach that will, together, better support sustained school improvement”.

They said accountability “can be more intelligent”, and regulation should allow for “softer” and existing harder interventions.

They added that school improvement expertise and capacity in trusts “can be better leveraged… More can be done to connect organisations and professionals to each other to facilitate the creation and sharing of professional knowledge”.

Here’s your trusty Schools Week speed read on the proposals …

1. Commission trusts to offer ‘soft’ support…

The CST said organisations “such as effective trusts” should be “strategically commissioned, within a coherent regulatory strategy, to provide expertise and capacity (‘softer’ support) to schools”.

This would be coordinated by regional school improvement commissioning teams, which would be “empowered to commission and fund school improvement support from effective organisations, which in most areas will be school trusts”.

It seems to tie into Labour party proposals for teacher “hit squads” – regional school improvement teams that would work with schools to respond to areas of weakness identified in new Ofsted report cards.

2. …but keep using ‘hard’ intervention where needed

The report warned that the addition of greater “soft” approaches to improvement “must be in addition to, and not instead of, the rarer but necessary use of harder intervention”.

They argued it was a “point of principle that where necessary DfE regional directors must be able to intervene in prescribed ways to protect children’s interests, including sponsorship and re-brokering”.

3. Redesign accountability triggers

Although CST said Ofsted inspections should “feed into” regulatory insight and decision-making, “it is not clear the current system of grading is the right approach”.

Changing this is “in part about redesigning the outcome of inspection”, but it is also about ensuring such outcomes “lead to well calibrated regulatory responses”.

The report warned the introduction of intervention in schools rated ‘requires improvement’ twice in a row was “problematic for a number of reasons and should be redesigned or abandoned”.

4. Put NLE programme on ‘organisational footing’

The paper also said the national leader of education (NLE) programme should be “transposed to an organisational footing”.

This means trusts “could be designated” as NLEs, or a “national leader of school improvement”.

CST also said “appropriate resourcing should be prioritised by government to support improvement relationships between organisations that are deeper and more sustained than the current arrangements such as the trust and school improvement offer allow”.

5. Encourage ‘collaborative networks’

The report said expertise should be shared across “all trusts, regionally and nationally, through high quality professional networks”.

Trusts should be “encouraged to participate in high quality collaborative networks”, with such networks “owned” by the sector.

“While they might interact with and hold constructive relationships with government and regulators, they should be driven by the sector and for the sector.”

They acknowledged such networks “already exist locally and nationally, though it is likely that regional networks in some areas may need to be established and some resource may be necessary to seed this”.

6. Work out how to measure trust improvement capacity

Government should also set out a long-term plan to develop and test an approach to evaluating trust improvement capacity.

While trust inspection “could be a longer-term ambition for the system”, there are “risks if this goes ahead of the evidence base we hold about how effective trusts operate and improve schools”.

Work is also needed to define the “purpose(s)” trust inspection would serve and how it would align with school inspection and regulation.

7. ‘Slim and efficient’ regional teams

The CST said the system needed “slim and efficient” DfE regional teams with a “clear remit to regulate and commission improvement support”.

Given that school improvement and expertise resides in organisations, it is “important to be clear that DfE teams would not themselves be improvers of schools”.

The teams should be assembled in a way that ensures “scarce capacity is not drawn out of schools and trusts into bureaucratic structures that don’t themselves educate children”.

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