Exclusive: School improvement jobs slashed by 60%

Tes reveals how three-fifths of the council support relied on by thousands of schools has vanished

John Roberts

School improvement officers are disappearing

The army of school improvement officers relied upon to support heads and raise classroom standards is fast disappearing, with figures suggesting three-fifths of jobs have gone in six years.

Tes can reveal that across more than 60 local education authorities, the number of school improvement officers employed has fallen from 1,568 in 2010-11 to 629.2 in 2016-17 – a drop of 60 per cent.

Responses to freedom of information requests also reveal that council spending on school improvement has been cut in half from £141 million to £71.5 million over the same period.

This creates a situation in some authorities where teams with just a handful of people are responsible for the performance of more than 100 schools.

There are concerns that academisation and cuts to town hall budgets have stripped away local authorities’ ability to provide school support, despite councils still being responsible for more than 14,000 state schools.

Heads warn that this leaves with less support to turn to.

Clem Coady, headteacher of Stoneraise School, a primary in Carlisle, said: “What was so important was that your school improvement partner knew their schools. They knew about the locality, the challenges you face and the journey you have been on. Now if you broker someone at £300 or £450 a day, you have to spend the first few hours explaining all of that."

More than a quarter of the 63 councils that provided figures to Tes have cut the number of school improvement officers employed by 75 per cent over six years. In Herefordshire, the authority went from employing 43 officers in 2010-11 to just one in 2016-17.

Cheshire East went from 25 to 1.6 in the same time period. They were among 12 authorities where the number of school improvement officers dropped by more than 80 per cent this decade.

The loss of school improvement support

Hull has seen a 93 per cent decline in its school improvement budget from £5.8 million in 2010-11 to just £405,000 last year. 

A headteachers’ union leader has said government cuts to town hall budgets have not taken into account the fact that councils still run thousands of schools.

In 2015, George Osborne, then chancellor, announced that by turning all schools into academies, £600 million would be saved from the education services grant – which councils used to support schools.

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said the decision to phase out the ESG was “premature and ill-considered”.

Reacting to Tes figures, he said: “Many schools remain under local authority control and the network of multi-academy trusts is not sufficiently evolved to be able to provide support everywhere.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact on the ability of local authorities to continue to provide services on which many schools rely, including education welfare support and school improvement services.”

The Department for Education has said it is committed to raising standards at all schools.

A spokesman added: “That is why in November 2016 we introduced the Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF), which has provided funding to support improvement in around 3,000 maintained schools and academies.

 “On top of this, £50 million a year is made available specifically for local authorities to drive improvement in low-performing maintained schools.”

Figures show that so far 18 councils have been among the successful 140 bids for SSIF money.

This is an edited version of an article in the 29 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. 

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