Education secretary Michael Gove will be able to compel the schools watchdog Ofsted to inspect a councils’ school improvement services, under proposals published today.
The proposals will also allow for a council to be inspected if pupils in its area have low attainment levels – even if all or most of the local schools are academies.
Ofsted is today announcing details of its controversial plan, first outlined by its chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (left) last month, to start inspecting councils’ school improvement functions. The plan will be opened to consultation today.
The watchdog will be able to inspect a council if local education services meet one of seven criteria, which include low pupil attainment levels, a low number of pupils at schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and a high volume of complaints about schools. Inspections can be carried out regardless of the number of academies in the area.
The proposals would also force Ofsted to inspect a council if education secretary Michael Gove raised concerns about the effectiveness of its school improvement function.
The new inspections have sparked controversy, with many councils claiming cuts in government funding and a shift towards school autonomy have forced them to drastically scale back their school improvement work.
The concerns are backed up by an independent report commissioned by the Department for Education, published in June 2012. It said headteachers believed “local authority school improvement teams had been stripped back to the core and that, in the process, some long-standing expertise had been lost.”
The report also outlined an “anxiety about whether, in the future, local authorities will continue to have sufficient capacity to effectively support and challenge their maintained schools, given the reductions in local authority school improvement capacity.”
David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, told LGC: “The big concern is that councils find themselves in a situation where they are trying to carry out school improvement work without the levers to do so.”
He said: “These new inspections seem to restate the importance of councils’ role in education, which runs contrary to the messages that have come from the Department for Education since 2010.”
In full: Ofsted’s criteria for inspecting a council
Ofsted may inspect a local authority if it meets one or more of the following:
- The proportion of children who attend a good or better maintained school, pupil referral unit and/or alternative provision is lower than that found nationally
- There is a higher than average number of schools in an Ofsted category of concern and/or there are indicators that progress of such schools is not securing rapid enough improvement
- There is a higher than average proportion of schools that have not been judged to be good by Ofsted
- Attainment levels across the local authority are lower than that found nationally and/or where the trend of improvement is weak
- Rates of progress, relative to starting points, are lower than that found nationally and/or where the trend of improvement is weak
- The volume of qualifying complaints to Ofsted about schools in a local authority area is a matter of concern
- The education secretary has concerns about the effectiveness of local authority school improvement functions
Ofsted’s considerations during an inspection
- The effectiveness of corporate and strategic leadership of school improvement
- The extent to which the local authority knows its schools and other providers, their performance and the standards they achieve and how effectively support is focused on areas of greatest need
- The effectiveness of the local authority’s identification of, and appropriate intervention in, underperforming schools and other provider
- The impact of local authority support and challenge over time and the rate at which schools and other providers are improving
- The extent to which the local authority brokers support for schools and other providers
- The effectiveness of strategies to support highly effective leadership and management in schools and other providers
- Support and challenge for school governance
- The use of funding to effect improvement, including how it is focused on areas of greatest need