Agenda item

Consultation on School Improvement Grant Funding

Minutes:

32.1    The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the government was consulting local authorities on proposed changes to how LA’s school improvement actives were funded.  The government was proposing to remove the grant and enable all improvement activity, including that provided in connection with core improvement activities, to be funded in the same way via de-delegation from schools’ budget shares.  The rationale behind the proposal was that local authorities rarely needed to utilise intervention powers, many historically poorer performing schools were now academies, and core improvement activities were part of a continuum of wider activity.

 

32.2    He reported that the impact of the removal of this grant in Gloucestershire would be a loss of income totalling circa £720k by 2023/24.  A reduction of 50% would be seen in 2022/23.  The government was proposing to change the regulations to allow all LA School Improvement activities to be funded through de-delegation, with the agreement of the local schools forum or the Secretary of State.

 

32.3    The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that in terms of next steps, the LA would assess the impact of the proposed changes and work with Forum members representing maintained schools to model potential options for School Improvement funding.  Consultation/engagement would take place with all maintained schools, (Primary, Secondary, Alternative Provision and Special) to consider options, and to also produce a response to the government’s consultation. He stressed that the consultation was focused on the pace of the removal of the grant, rather than whether the grant should or should not be removed.

 

32.4    The Head of Education Development and Strategy emphasised that decisions on de-delegations for School Improvement funding would involve the Forum members representing maintained schools across the school sector (i.e. Special, Alternative Provision, Primary, and Secondary).

 

32.5    In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development confirmed that Gloucestershire rarely needed to utilise the intervention powers.  LAs were working hard not to get into the position of having to use the intervention powers with schools that were causing concern.  The Director of Children’s Services added that using this statutory power of direction was always an intervention of last resort.  The LA aimed to work with governing bodies to build consensus to avoid having to use it; however, it was a useful power to call upon when needed.

 

32.6    The Director of Children’s Services explained that ultimately the consultation was sending the message that it remained the government’s intention to move to full academisation, and for all stand alone academies to join Multi Academy Trusts by 2025.  It could be implied that the removal of this grant was removing a barrier to academisation.  He added that following the loss of the grant income it would be incredibly difficult to maintain a school improvement service at local authority level to support schools, consequently this would be a loss of service to maintained schools.  Senior officers were concerned about the impact this would have on the school improvement service, including a lack of intelligence in schools meaning less opportunity for LAs to act before performance deteriorated significantly and formal intervention became inevitable.  A member commented that it would be hugely disappointing to lose the support and advice the LA provided for maintained schools, which was greatly appreciated.

 

32.7    A member expressed concern that this was not a consultation but more of a nudge towards full academisation; the worry was how this may directly negatively impact on non academy schools in Gloucestershire.

 

32.8    The Director of Education reported that she had attended a South West regional consultation meeting with representatives of the DfE, who were running this consultation process.  The meeting was attended by Directors of Education in the south west region, who put forward concerns about the proposed change to the School Improvement funding.  This was the first meeting whereby Directors of Education could respond verbally, enabling those concerns to be registered as part of the consultation process.  

 

32.9    The Director of Children’s Services informed members that at those consultation meetings, the views of LAs were also being sought on the appetite for moving to full academisation ‘on block’ - meaning that all maintained schools would become academies at once.  It was becoming increasingly clear that the LA may, moving forward, need to commence with the development of a roadmap to full academisation for Gloucestershire schools.  This would be based on the realisation that it was the government’s directive and it would need to happen at some point.  By taking this proactive approach it would enable discussions about how full academisation could be undertaken in the most constructive and beneficial way for the children in the county, to provide them with the best education experience.  It was recognised that a collaborative approach was needed and the Education Reference Group and the headteacher associations were viewed as useful forums to have the debate around moving towards full academisation.   Members expressed support for this approach, and it was suggested that governors should also be included in those conversations not just headteachers.

 

32.10  The Head of Education Strategy and Development referred to the following statement in the consultation document:

‘The local authority role in school improvement has changed significantly in recent years, with the growth of school-led approaches, such as Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), putting school improvement in the hands of the strongest schools and school leaders’.

He contended that there were also many outstanding leaders within maintained schools.

 

32.11  The Head of Education Strategy and Development pointed out that it was a challenge for small rural schools to convert to academies because of issues around funding and viability.  He explained however, that it could be implied that the significant increase seen in sparsity funding was targeted at addressing those barriers to academisation.  Therefore, the proposed change to School Improvement funding was not an isolated example of the government working towards bringing about that change.

 

32.12  The Head of Education and Strategy agreed that he would share the LA’s draft response to the consultation on how LAs’ School Improvement activates were funded, with the representatives of maintained schools on the Schools Forum for comment.  He also encouraged maintained schools to respond to the consultation on an individual basis by the deadline date of 26 November 2021.

 

32.13  It was noted that at the 13 January 2022 meeting, the Forum would receive a report and recommendation from the LA, for a decision to be made on the future funding arrangements for School Improvement.