The Committee warns that, given the increasingly complicated system of oversight, accountability and inspection in the education system, a more fundamental reassessment of accountability and oversight for all schools will be needed in the future.
Committee's findings and recommendations
RSCs role, transparency and accountability
There are now over 5,000 academies. RSCs occupy an increasingly powerful position in the education system but the Committee finds that their role is unclear, even to key partners in the education sector. The Committee urges RSCs to do more to develop their working relationships with schools, local authorities, Ofsted, local communities, and other partners to ensure the current model delivers results on school improvement.
To address concerns regarding a lack of transparency, the Committee recommends that RSC decision-making frameworks should be published, and that the role of their advisory boards should be set out more clearly. The Government also needs to re-examine the accountability of the RSCs themselves.
Current design a barrier to effective operation
The Committee finds the current design of the Regional School Commissioner regions is itself a barrier to effective operation. The fact that London is divided between three regions creates more problems than benefits.
The Committee recommends the introduction of a single London Regional School Commissioner and that RSC regions across England match Ofsted regions. The Committee suggests that any devolution in the future to areas such as Greater Manchester may require a dedicated RSC.
Closer monitoring and KPIs review
The Committee recommends the impact of RSCs should be considered in terms of the improvement in young people's education and outcomes, rather than merely the volume of academy conversions or other levels of activity. This approach would mirror the way in which the effectiveness of local authorities is measured, such as the number of children attending "Good" or "Outstanding" schools.
The Committee also recommends that the Government’s review of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for RSCs eliminates potential conflicts of interest and provides assurance that RSC decisions are made in the interests of school improvement rather than to fulfil specific targets for the number of academies.
In spite of claims from the Department that the impact of RSCs is being monitored and that RSCs are being held to account internally, the DfE struggled to provide the Committee with data on the performances of RSCs. To improve accountability and transparency, the Government should produce an annual report on the work of RSCs, showing each RSC's performance against all of their (revised) KPIs and their targets, and should undertake to publish online regular performance.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee said:
"For too long, and under all parties, the Department for Education has made changes to structures without setting out the big picture. 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.
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. 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."