Regional commissioners branded a 'nonsense'

Richard Vaughan

Education secretary Nicky Morgan must rethink the deployment of the new regional commissioners, a report released today has said, branding the current set up as “nonsense”.

The commissioners, who officially started work this month and earn a salary of £140,000 a year, have oversight of academies and free schools in eight separate regions across the country and will be asked to take action if any academy is deemed to be underperforming.

But a report produced by the London Assembly Education Panel has labelled the current deployment of commissioners, which sees one person monitoring schools in the Isle of Wight as well as Lambeth in south London, as “nonsense”.

The document, called London learners, London lives, calls on Ms Morgan to reconsider the regions so that London has its own dedicated commissioner.

As it stands, the eight regions are Lancashire and West Yorkshire, the north of England, south London and the South East of England, north-west London and south-central England, the West Midlands, the South West of England, north-east London and the East of England and finally the East Midlands and the Humber.

The report states: “The commissioner needs to be able to operate effectively across the whole of London to ensure effective oversight and to ensure supporting partnerships can be brokered and shared learning.

"It is nonsense to have separate regional commissioners for neighbouring London boroughs but to have the same commissioner for a school in the Isle of Wight as for Lambeth. London should have one regional commissioner who is accountable to the secretary of state for education.”

The panel’s comments echo those of former education secretary David Blunkett, who similarly dismissed the current set up of regional commissioners during a select committee hearing in July.

"It's just a nonsense,” he said. “Had there been proper consultation, we might have reached the view there would be a sufficient geographic entity to make sense of collaboration across borough boundaries, but with sufficient identity to the locality for the individual."

The London report also calls on the Mayor of London to demand the OECD produce a new international league table to allow the capital to compare its schools with major cities around the world.

London, the document states, is now the best performing region in the country at both primary and secondary levels and its students’ achievements should be pitted against other “global cities”.

But as yet there is no city-level league table that compares school systems in cities that have sufficiently “high levels of high-tech or service sector exports”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said regional schools commissioners would help ensure all pupils reached their potential.

"Working with boards of outstanding local headteachers they are encouraging good schools to grow, while acting swiftly in the small number of cases where academies are struggling," he said. 

“Rather than keeping London's expertise and proven track record in school improvement concentrated within the city, the structure is designed to spread that excellence into the outlying counties. Since 2010 we have taken more than 1,000 struggling schools and turned them into academies with the support of a strong sponsor – and regional school commissioners are helping this improve further.”


Related stories:

Government advertises for £140k-a-year commissioners to oversee academies and free schools - December 2013

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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