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Accountability, regulation and leadership in our school system - exploring a ten year vision


Over the last 20 years school leadership and our schools system has fundamentally changed, perhaps beyond recognition. There is no doubt that schools, colleges and academies operate in an increasingly atomised sector. Beyond, and indeed as part of, the creation of different ‘categories’ of schools, many strands of accountability and regulation are in place, with even more on the horizon.

When considering what an effective accountability and regulatory regime should look like, it is important to start with who it needs to serve. Any education system must deliver to the needs of young people, their parents, employers and the taxpayer.

In addition, the impact of globalisation on our school system continues to grow at pace. Whether it is through improvements in the emerging nations’ education systems leading to high-skilled workers in low cost economies or the development of new technologies that impact on the physical proximity of workers, the global stage increasingly impacts on the job prospects for our school and university leavers. The importance of this is perhaps best illustrated by the growing prominence of international comparisons of the world’s education systems.

Against this backdrop:

  • the Education White Paper, ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ published in March 2016, has signalled the Government’s direction of travel and affirmed its desire to see a fully academised system
  • the Education and Adoption Act 2016 received Royal Assent in April 2016. The Act now provides far greater intervention powers for central government (albeit it is clear they will be exercised through the National School Commissioner and his network of Regional School Commissioners (‘RSCs’) and their deputies)
  • Ofsted continues to reign as the inspectorate for the state funded sector, reinvigorated with a new framework, new inspectors and a focus on great school leadership. However, the introduction of a system of RSCs quickly followed by the expansion of their role has created confusion about the role of Ofsted, particularly in relation to driving up education standards
  • maintained schools remain under local authority control, yet we are witnessing the erosion of local authority powers with a firm political agenda in favour of academisation, alongside a strengthened intervention role for the Secretary of State
  • academy trusts themselves, though formally regulated by the Education Funding Agency (‘EFA’), also find themselves ultimately accountable to the Charity Commission and must adhere to their duties under company law. We have seen the introduction of focused inspections for multi-academy trusts but without any formal extension of Ofsted’s powers or a bespoke framework
  • finally the recent education green paper demonstrates that the Government’s appetite for education reform remains bold.

Change is indeed inevitable but, in an already atomised sector, how can we achieve consistent and effective accountability and regulation?

We hope that the publication of this report will stimulate further serious debate about the system of accountability we will need in our schools system in the medium term, together with what the sector needs to do to support the development of a next generation of leaders who are fit for purpose to lead our system in a post-Brexit world.

Education 10 year vision

Roundtable delegates

  • Mark Blois, (Chair), Partner and Head of Education
    Browne Jacobson LLP
  • Paul Barber, Director
    Catholic Education Service
  • Debbie Clinton, Board Member
    Freedom and Autonomy for Schools - National Association
  • John Fowler, Policy Manager
    Local Government Information Unit (LGiU)
  • Ty Goddard, Co-Founder
    The Education Foundation
  • Hugh Greenway, Chief Executive
    The Elliot Foundation Academies Trust
  • Ian Hickman, Chief Operating Officer
    Northern Education Trust
  • Emma Knights, Chief Executive
    National Governance Association
  • Nick MacKenzie, Partner
    Browne Jacobson LLP
  • Fiona Millar
    Writer and education journalist
  • Stephen Morales, Chief Executive
    National Association of School Business Management
  • Lord James O’Shaughnessy
    Floreat Education
  • Diana Owen, CBE, Chief Executive
    L.E.A.D. Multi Academy Trust
  • Cathie Paine, Deputy Chief Executive
    REAch2 Academy Trust
  • Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive
    The Co-operative College
  • Malcolm Trobe, CBE, Interim General Secretary
    Association of School & College Leaders

Browne Jacobson would like to thank the key education sector stakeholders who attended our latest roundtable discussion, chaired by Mark Blois, Head of Education at Browne Jacobson.

This report reflects the thoughts and views that were introduced in a white paper Browne Jacobson issued in preparation for the event and then developed at our roundtable. It puts forward a series of key recommendations for further consideration by stakeholders on delivering an effective accountability and regulatory regime and about what the sector needs to do to support the development of the next generation of leaders. In the report, where we refer to the panel, we are referring to the attendees of the roundtable as a whole.

The content of this report does not reflect the views of any one individual who attended or the organisation they represent. The information and opinions expressed in this report are no substitute for full legal advice, it is for guidance only.

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This report is also available as a PDF that can be downloaded below.

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Mark Blois

Mark Blois

Partner and Head of Education

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