Regional schools commissioners are responsible for some of the most important and controversial decisions about schools in local communities across England.
However, an analysis of the diaries of all eight RSCs for November 2016 has raised concerns about the how accountable they are to members of the public.
The list of more than 600 appointments, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, does not include any with parents or directly with the media, or any public meetings to hear the views of local communities or to explain their decisions to the communities they affect.
Robert Hill, an education consultant and former Downing Street adviser to Tony Blair, describes the situation as “crazy”.
He says that the police and the NHS would “never conceive of trying to operate without consulting and working with local communities”.
“Education is not a private fiefdom of the Department for Education – it belongs to all of us,” he adds. “RSCs should be encouraged to engage with others; to explain their thinking and listen to views.”
However, the diaries do include 15 appointments with MPs, mostly to discuss individual schools or trusts.
Jennifer Bexon-Smith, RSC for the East Midlands and the Humber, had a “meeting with MPs in the region to discuss any concerns that the MPs had within their constituencies”.
The diaries show that most of the RSCs’ scheduled meetings or phone calls involved individual academy trusts, with these appointments sometimes involving DfE officials. Half of the RSCs held meetings with education ministers to discuss individual schools or academy chains. The only trust named was the Norwich-based Right for Success, which RSC Tim Coulson discussed with Nick Gibb on 28 November.
In November, Dominic Herrington, RSC for South-East England and South London, met Tes’ parent company, Tes Global, “to discuss what Tes have been up to over the last year and what we are now offering primary and secondary schools”.
And Rebecca Clark, who was RSC for South-West England, had a phone call with Lord Knight, chief education adviser to Tes Global, “to discuss a trust in the region”. Neither of these appointments involved editorial content in Tes.