Plan for intervention powers is ‘intolerable’, warn heads

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Angry school leaders reject prime minister’s plan to give regional commissioners far-reaching new powers to intervene in "failing" schools. Pete Henshaw reports.

“Cracking the whip” is not the solution to transforming schools in challenging circumstances it has been warned this week.

Headteachers have reacted angrily to what they called “intolerable” plans unveiled by prime minister David Cameron.

Writing in the Daily Mail on Monday (October 13), Mr Cameron outlined proposals to give the eight regional schools commissioners far-reaching new powers to intervene and “overhaul failing schools” – referring to those judged inadequate by Ofsted. In particular, Mr Cameron said he wants to target 500 schools that teach a total of 100,000 pupils. These schools have not been identified.

Among the powers he wants to give to the commissioners, who are former headteachers who oversee the free schools and academies programme, will be the ability to replace a school’s leadership, sack the governors, and change the curriculum. They could also order staffing changes, alterations to behaviour policies and punishments, and influence other areas including uniform and homework.

Mr Cameron said the plans, which are to be included within the Conservative Party’s election manifesto, could be put in place very quickly.

He wrote: “If it’s the leadership that’s not working, they can make them remove it – reappointing the whole governing body if they have to. If the curriculum isn’t up to scratch, they can change it. They can issue new disciplinary measures for bad behaviour. They can pair up failing schools with good local schools. And if they succeed, we will look at what they can do for schools that are said to ‘require improvement’.”

He added: “Every day a school fails is a day too long. So these measures will happen fast.”

However, school leaders this week rejected the idea, with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) accusing the government of “turning its back” on the profession. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), meanwhile, warned that schools in challenging situations needed “more than a quick fix”.

Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, said that a fortnight after education secretary Nicky Morgan had “held out a hand of friendship to school leaders” in her Conservative Party Conference speech, “the government is turning its back once again”. 

He continued: “Here we see the first reverberations of UKIP on education policy. The announcement may make good politics to some but it makes lousy school improvement. It is all the more intolerable, because the government’s own policies cause more delays to school improvement than any headteacher ever could.

“It seems that the Conservatives have learned little or nothing about schools during their tenure in office. Their only strategy for school improvement is to crack the whip; no matter that such punitive tactics make it difficult to recruit talented people to take on tough schools.”

Mr Hobby said that many delays to school improvement are “of the government’s own making”, including the “demolition” of local oversight making it hard to spot problems, and the focus on “structural change rather than teaching quality”.

ASCL chief Brian Lightman warned that school leaders must drive school improvement strategies. He added: “This is not about ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches. Leading a school in challenging circumstances needs more than a quick fix. It takes time, patience and expertise. Too many school leaders are being removed from their posts before they have been given a realistic amount of time to do this demanding job. The language of ‘failing schools’ is unhelpful. Schools in challenging circumstances need careful and planned expert support which is best brought about when government and school leaders work together in a self-improving system.”

Mr Cameron has also revealed plans for a “National Teaching Fellowship”. This scheme would “sign-up” 1,500 teachers by 2020 who would then be deployed into “failing or inadequate schools”.

Mr Lightman welcomed the additional resources this would create, but warned that the teachers involved would have to “build trust and credibility”.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Every child deserves the right to go to a good local school where they learn the skills and experiences they need to succeed in modern Britain. The new early intervention powers and National Teaching Service will ensure every child can truly enjoy that right for the first time.”


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