Blunkett calls for standards tsars to improve school performance

Laura McCardle
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The introduction of schools standards "tsars" with powers to intervene in all schools is key to tackling under performance, according to a new report backed by the Labour Party.

A report by former Education Secretary David Blunkett recommends measures for improving school standards.
A report by former Education Secretary David Blunkett recommends measures for improving school standards.

Former education secretary David Blunkett made the recommendation after reviewing the accountability and oversight in schools in response to concerns that Education Secretary Michael Gove is neglecting his duty to improve standards.

In his report, Blunkett claims that 4,000 schools are being run directly from Whitehall in a “centralised and inefficient” system that allows underperformance to go unchecked.

He also criticises Gove for leaving schools to “sink or swim” by having no effective system for improvement.

As a result, Blunkett has outlined 40 recommendations designed to improve standards.

The most radical proposal calls for the introduction of school standards "tsars" – or directors of school standards – in every area with powers to intervene in all underperforming state, academy and free schools.

They would be appointed by local authorities from a list of candidates approved by the Education Secretary.

In addition, Blunkett wants the decisions for creating new schools and new school places to be devolved to the new directors, who he said would commission services on the basis of effectiveness rather than political agenda.

The Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP said all schools must be held to the highest standards.

He said: “Michael Gove has damaged the drive for school standards by allowing underperformance in our schools to go unchecked.

“The government’s ideology of running thousands of schools directly from a desk in Whitehall means that underperformance is not spotted until it is too late, as we have seen with the Al-Madinah Free School, the now closed Discovery Free School and the substandard performance of many AET academies.

“New local directors of school standards will monitor, support and challenge schools to improve, driving up standards in underperforming and ‘fragile’ schools – irrespective of the status of school.”

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has welcomed the report and said the introduction of schools standards tsars would bring a “new and robust local oversight of all schools to root out underperformance”.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union Naswut, has also welcomed the report.

She said: “The coalition government’s structural reforms have weakened democratic accountability and handed more power to remote education providers at the expense of parents and local communities.

“Serious fault lines have now appeared across the education landscape which means that children’s entitlement to a school place, fair admissions, a national curriculum and to be taught by qualified teachers are at the mercy of individual education providers.

“The Blunkett review indicates that whilst there is waste and inefficiency in the system, it can be tackled through regulation, effective accountability and better local strategic co-ordination of education.”

Meanwhile, Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy research, said: "This review recognises that academies and free schools are here to stay, but that they need proper planning and oversight.

"David Blunkett has achieved a difficult balancing act – protecting the benefits of the academies programme while helping to address its shortfalls.

"The decision to extend academy-style freedoms to all schools is a bold move that will put all schools on a level playing field.

"The coalition government’s free school and academy programme has allowed some poor-quality schools to open and has contributed to a shortage of places in some areas.

"The creation of independent directors to oversee the school system in their local area should help to address this."

However, a spokesman for the Department for Education has defended the government’s approach.

He said: “Free schools and academies are already held more rigorously to account than council-run schools.

“We have consistently demonstrated that we take quick and decisive action if children are being denied the education they deserve – no matter what type of school they attend.

“In contrast, local authorities have presided over schools which have been in special measures year on year and done nothing – there are currently 40 council-run schools that have been in special measures for 18 months or longer.”

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