Leadership and Governance

ASCL position statements

Includes performance measures

What is the context?
We are witnessing a mental health crisis amongst children and young people. An already worrying situation has been exacerbated by Covid-19. Ofsted’s second report into the impact of the pandemic across educational settings highlighted the extent to which children are showing signs of mental health issues such as eating disorders and self-harm. 

The government’s proposed national intervention, Wellbeing for Education Return (WER), is intended to provide training to a representative from every school and college. However, this training intended to support return in September is only now reaching schools. In addition to this, ASCL has learnt that the government strategy and funding to put a Senior Mental Health Lead in each school is paused. 

ASCL position: ASCL agrees with the approach laid out in the Mental Health Green Paper to recruit and operate Mental Health Support Teams in every region alongside identifying and training a Mental Health Lead in every school. However, if this roll out is to be delayed/paused, ASCL asks that the local experts trained for the Wellbeing for Education Return (WER) initiative are made available directly to schools as a resource to support staff and pupils for the next 12 months, while we wait for the planned strategy to be rolled out. 

ASCL also asks that the funding identified for mental health training be channeled directly to schools in the interim. At the moment in particular, schools  are best suited to determine locally designed interventions and ensure they can offer a quick response to pupils with the most immediate and urgent needs. 

Why are we saying it?
The government’s current approach does not go far enough, move quickly enough or last long enough to meet the mental health and wellbeing of our children, post-Covid-19. Targeted and sustained support for pupil well-being is essential to meet their growing and complex needs post pandemic. Growing wellbeing and mental health issues are acting as a significant barrier against learning engagement and development across all school phases. These are continuing problems which require ongoing effective funding and support.

What is the context? Covid-19 has had an impact on the pupils in the current Year 10 and Year 12 due to take qualifications next year. Whilst it is universally accepted that all forms of accountability should be suspended in 2020, switching accountability back on in 2021 would be unhelpful and encourage false comparisons with other years.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that performance tables should continue to be suspended in 2021. Performance measures will not be comparable with other years for a wide range of reasons, including potentially reduced options and the exclusion of results from 2020. Data produced for schools to use internally, such as ASP, would be useful for information purposes so that schools can understand the impact of Covid-19. Even so, some measures will need to be adapted to have any meaning.

ASCL therefore calls on the DfE to announce this suspension without further delay so that schools can concentrate on creating the best experience for pupils and support their wellbeing from September.

Why are we saying it? Schools need to be free from the concerns of accountability as they work to reintegrate pupils during the year but would benefit from comparative information to use internally so they can assess the impact of the virus.

What is the context? Headteacher boards (HTBs) are responsible for advising their Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC). Their role is to provide advice, scrutiny and challenge to the RSC, including around which schools can become academies, who runs them, what happens if they fail, and which applications to open new free schools are approved.

The RSCs have significant authority over maintained schools as well as academies. This includes intervening in schools that have met the coasting definition, issuing warning notices where they are concerned about educational performance, leadership and governance or safety, and issuing academy orders for schools judged inadequate by Ofsted.

HTB members are either elected, appointed or co-opted to the board. Only current or former headteachers of academies judged by Ofsted as outstanding or good with outstanding leadership and management are able to stand for election, and only headteachers and executive headteachers of academies the region are able to vote in HTB elections.

ASCL position: ASCL calls for all headteachers to be able to stand and vote in their local headteacher board elections.

In line with the Nolan principles, ASCL also calls for:

  • headteacher boards to operate with greater transparency and openness
  • conflicts of interest to be managed, and to be seen to be managed, as effectively as possible
Why are we saying it? Only allowing academy leaders to stand as, and vote for, members of the HTBs disenfranchises the majority of school leaders, all of whom may be affected by the RSC’s decisions. It also means that the HTBs are not representative of the schools in their region.

In addition, we are concerned about the lack of transparency around HTB discussions and RSC decisions. While there are undoubtedly good reasons for some discussions being held in private, the extent to which the minutes of HTB meetings are delayed or redacted is unacceptable. As well as being democratically desirable, greater transparency would help to address concerns about potential conflicts of interest in situations in which members of HTBs have links with schools and academy trusts under discussion.

What is the context? The government has moved away from its proposal, outlined in the 2016 white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere, to require all schools to become academies by 2022. However, compulsory academisation still applies to maintained schools judged inadequate by Ofsted. In this situation, the Regional Schools Commissioner has a legal duty to issue an academy order requiring a school to become a sponsored academy.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that, unless exceptional circumstances apply, schools should not be subject to compulsory academisation. We also ask for a streamlining and reduction of bureaucratic burdens on academy trusts related to both conversion and financial reporting, and propose that the cost of academisation should be borne by the Treasury and not taken from the education budget.

Why are we saying it? We believe that, for many schools, becoming an academy and joining a multi-academy trust is a positive step, enabling them to both give and receive support. We also applaud the government’s desire to ensure that struggling schools are supported to improve rapidly and sustainably.

However, we do not believe that becoming a sponsored academy should be the only option available to schools in this position. There is, as yet, no evidence to suggest that this is the best way to enable schools to improve. Furthermore, the lack of suitable sponsors in some areas can mean the academy brokerage process can take many months, leaving schools in limbo and lacking the support the need.

Sponsored academisation should therefore be one option available to underperforming schools, but this should be considered alongside a range of other ways in which the school could be supported. The school itself should be meaningfully consulted about the best way forward.   

In addition, we call on the government to recognise the cost and time associated with the conversion process, and to ensure schools are adequately supported in undertaking this process.

What is the context? Some schools that wish to, or are required to, join a multi-academy trust (MAT) can find it difficult to find a trust which will accept them. This could be due to a number of reasons, including educational under-performance, financial issues, size, legal and/or commercial issues, and location.

This is particularly problematic for schools that are issued with an academy order after being judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted. These schools often end up ‘left in limbo’ while a suitable MAT for them is identified – sometimes for a considerable period of time.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that all schools, whatever their circumstances, should be able to join a MAT that can support them if they so wish.

We encourage the government to consider the following solutions to help ensure even schools considered ‘unattractive’ for a variety of reasons are able to benefit from joining a strong MAT:

  1. Ensure that MATs are effectively supported, both financially and otherwise, to take on and improve challenging schools.
  2. Recognise that immediately issuing an academy order might not always be the best solution for a  school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and make alternative solutions available to help the school to improve, such brokering support for them from another school or teaching school alliance, or permitting them to enter into a service-level agreement with a MAT.
  3. Commission, fund and share research into MATs and federations which successfully support ‘unattractive’ schools, and how they achieve this.
  4. Further develop the new accountability framework for MATs to take more sophisticated account of the impact of ‘unattractive’ schools on a trust’s performance.
Why are we saying it? It is imperative that schools, particularly those that are struggling, are supported and encouraged to provide the best possible education to the children and young people they serve. It is also essential that MATs are given the help they need to develop strong, sustainable support systems, and that they never find themselves in the position of taking on schools which they are not confident they can adequately support.

ASCL is concerned that schools could become 'stuck in special measures' if they are subject to an academy order which is unfilled for some time, eg for financial reasons.

We urge Ofsted to maintain timely, supported monitoring of all schools in special measures.

ASCL disagrees with the policy of compulsory academisation as outlined in the white paper. We ask for a streamlining and reduction of bureaucratic burdens on academy trusts related to both conversion and financial reporting, and propose that the cost of academisation should be borne by the Treasury and not taken from the education budget.

We have previously not supported mandatory reporting. However in the light of cross party views and the NSPCC shift we are currently reviewing our position.

ASCL maintains its current position

  1. School and colleges take very seriously their role in deterring, preventing and detecting the abuse of children and young people.
  2. Any new legislation should be evidence-based.
  3. ASCL has yet to see evidence that mandatory reporting backed up by criminal sanctions will protect children and young people.
  4. ASCL is also concerned about unintended consequences, for instance, if discretion is removed, the resulting weight of unmoderated reporting will make it more difficult for those with the responsibility for investigating allegations to identify genuine cases of abuse.
  5. If it is decided to introduce mandatory reporting ASCL takes the view that it should be strictly limited.

Schools and colleges already have the freedom, subject to consultation, to determine the length of their school day. ASCL maintains that schools should be left to decide how best to structure their day in accordance with local circumstances and in light of the educational needs of young people.