‘Trust schools and act locally’ says education recovery commissioner

The government’s education recovery commissioner has emphasised the importance of trusting schools and warned against the dangers of over-centralisation, as he addressed a conference of schools leaders. Sir Kevan Collins, former chief executive of the Education Endowment Fund, was appointed to the role last month. Speaking to delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference, Sir Kevan was asked about what strengths and weaknesses of the education system had been revealed by the coronavirus pandemic. Responding, he said: ‘I think we have seen the limits of over centralisation. I believe in localism. I believe in place. I was the director of education in east London and I think we demonstrated what you can do in places like Tower Hamlets, in the most deprived communities, when you work with the grain of your communities.’ He gave the examples of school lunches during the pandemic and summer catch-up activities as things that would benefit from being delivered locally, with schools empowered to ‘harness the resources’ of their area.

Speaking more generally about the education recovery after the pandemic, Sir Kevan said he believed this should be measured on three ‘outcomes measures’ – whether children were ‘back on track’ with core curriculum knowledge, the attainment gap between poorer and better-off pupils, and ‘broader outcomes’ such as pupils’ emotional and physical wellbeing. However in terms of delivery he again recommended giving schools autonomy to decide on the best way forward. ‘I prefer trust’ he said, ‘I prefer the idea we make the framework clear and use my big outcomes measures as the ones we are looking for and say to schools you know your young people and your community’. On funding for recovery initiatives, he said he was not in favour of too many separate pots of money and eligibility criteria. ‘I’m much more in the camp of we should say to schools, “here is the bucket, work out what you need for your young people”, he commented.

Sir Kevan’s remarks came in the same week that a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) suggested that fewer than half of pupils receiving support from the flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) were from disadvantaged backgrounds. The NAO found that of 125,200 children who had been allocated a place on the scheme, 41.100 had begun receiving tuition by February 2021. However, just 44 per cent of these pupils were eligible for pupil premium funding. Although the NTP is aimed at disadvantaged pupils, the Department for Education has not set any target for what proportion of those accessing the scheme should be disadvantaged pupils. In the report the NAO say that this raises questions ‘over the extent to which the scheme will reach the most disadvantaged children’.

Commenting on the NAO findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL said: ‘The relatively low number of children identified in this report as actually receiving tuition under the NTP is not a surprise, given the complexity of delivering a programme of this nature and the disruption happening in schools. And the fact that less than half of them were children eligible for pupil premium is no surprise either as schools will have done exactly what was asked of them, which was to use their judgement to identify the children in their schools who would benefit most.’ He continued: ‘All of this goes to show it would have been a lot quicker, simpler and more effective to have simply given this money directly to schools and to link at least a proportion of the overall package of recovery funding to pupil premium, as this would have ensured that schools with more disadvantaged pupils received more money.’

Full NAO report: https://tinyurl.com/d6ue8j6z

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