Call for more accountability

11th November 1994 at 00:00
Bob Doe unravels a plan to return school staffing and finance powers to local authorities.

Stronger powers for education authorities to intervene where locally managed schools are not achieving the standards expected - or where heads or governors do not accept the authority's advice - are called for in a discussion document issued by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the body which speaks for inner city education authorities.

In a document aimed at influencing the future development of local management of schools, AMA suggests heads should be answerable to chief education officers who should report on them to governors. It also suggests heads' pay should be taken out of the hands of governors and negotiated instead by local authorities.

"We need to find an appropriate balance between proper democratic accountability in delivering an important public service, and managerial freedom and flexibility which will release individual initiative and encourage the efficient use of resources," the report argues.

The AMA suggests that all school development plans should have as their central aim the raising of achievement. LEAs should monitor the performance of schools and have additional powers to set standards and to intervene in schools where acceptable standards of performance are not achieved.

LEAs might specify: * appropriate targets for such indicators as national curriculum key stage assessments or attendance; * adequate procedures for identifying, assessing and meeting special educational needs; * appropriate policies on literacy and numeracy; * commitment to the promotion of equal opportunities; * budget planning linked to curriculum development, staff development and raising achievement; * financial probity measures following the OFSTEDAudit Commission guidelines.

By opting for GM status, a school could avoid the LEA's quality control. "There should be no opting out of quality. All publicly funded institutions should be brought within a common system of audit and review.

"Governing bodies should be able to call upon professional expertise to assess the performance of the head. This raises a fundamental difficulty, as in most schools the head is both a member of the governing body, and its principal adviser, as well as the executor of most of its decisions. This creates a gap in the framework of accountability which is often a main contributory factor to a school's failing."

This gap should be filled by requiring heads to give account of their stewardship of their school to the chief education officer annually. "In order to bring the dual lines of accountability together, the chief education officer should then report to the governing body."

Since heads are accountable to the governing body, they should not be governors. And as they may misuse their position when advising the governors on pay, the salaries of heads and deputies should be negotiated locally on an authority-wide basis, in consultation with governing bodies, the paper suggests.

Quality of leadership was vital for a school's success. The need for governors to secure the services of a headteacher in whom they can have full confidence had to be balanced against the right of the LEA to be satisfied that the person appointed was personally and professionally qualified. So the AMA wants the arrangements established under the Education Act 1986 for joint LEAgovernor appointments to be reintroduced for headteachers.

Governing bodies needed help with staffing plans and the remuneration appropriate to different management levels. Generally LEA advice was acted on but the AMA wants authorities to be given the power to issue directions to schools if guidelines are "unreasonably" ignored.

LEAs needed similar powers of guidance and direction over equal opportunities and personnel issues. Equal opportunities called for an integrated approach to personnel and other policies, and ensuring that they are consistently applied. "LEA-wide priorities may seem less relevant at school level. However, it is only at LEA-wide level that equal opportunity policies can be devised to cover every aspect of equality to guarantee a comprehensive range of opportunities for local people."

Where LEA personnel guidelines were not adopted, or advice was ignored, the LEA should have the power to issue directions to ensure that the governing body complied with the law.

Authorities should also have the power to hear appeals on personnel matters, such as dismissal, but having made a determination, it should either confirm the decision or refer it back to the governing body.

The association wants authorities to have more power to intervene where schools were failing to meet required standards. Currently an LEA could only withdraw governors' delgated powers when they persistently failed to comply with a local management scheme or were not managing their budgets in a "satisfactory" manner.

"Greater accountability and control over quality could be achieved if these ultimate sanctions were complemented by clearer powers for LEAs to intervene inIschools identifiedIas requiring assistance because their performance is judged unsatisfactory against pre-determined criteria."

The AMA suggests partial suspension of a delegated power, replacing it with a requirement that decisions are made jointly by the governing body and the LEA. "The aim would be to reach decisions by consensus. An alternative approach would involve the LEA directing the head on a particular issue on which the governing body had failed to ensure that appropriate standards had been met. This could include, for instance, performance standards, or standards relating to financial management. Where the LEA assumes the power of direction in this way, it must also be in a position to take any disciplinary action that it is felt to be necessaryI" The AMA is concerned about the large balances held by some schools. "If a school is planning to carry over more than Pounds 20, 000 or 5 per cent of its annual budget (whichever is the greater), then the governing body should give the LEA a written account of its reasons for doing so, and any plans for the spending of balances in the next or subsequent financial years, so that this can be reported to its education committee."

Some LEAs have developed schemes akin to a "credit union" where the unspent balances of all an authority's schools are held in a pool. Interest is paid to those with a credit balance, but cash advances can be made to other schools with heavy expenses in a particular year.

Average pay versus actual.

The Government requirement that school budgets should be calculated according to the average salary of teachers in the authority, but charged according to the actual salary paid, should be relaxed, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' report argues.

"The problem with this approach is that schools with stable staff are penalised since such staff are inevitably at the higher end of the incremental scale."

As a consequence of this "averageactual" model, schools were encouraged to appoint less experienced teachers to save money. Teachers, particularly women, seeking to re-enter work after a break in employment found it difficult to compete with college leavers, and redeployment between schools was more difficult.

The AMA wants to be able to use an "averageaverage" model in which the LEA operates as an agency employing teachers. It then charges the schools the average cost of the main-scale element of the teacher.

Governing bodies would then be free to operate their discretion over allowances and accelerated increments from within their overall budget share.

"This system has the advantage of clearly separating out the unavoidable costs of employment of a particular number of teaching staff and the discretionary costs which the governors have chosen to incur in order to provide incentives and good management structures within the school. It makes budget planning simpler at the school level.

"It removes (whether for good or ill) any consideration of the cost of a main-scale teacher when a governing body is considering an appointment, in effect reverting to the orginial position where headteachers generally seek a mixture of experience within their establishments for educational rather than cost reasons.

"The disadvantages of this approach are that it takes away from governors the flexibility to save money by making appointments at the lower end of the scale, since schools have had to operate the averageactual salary model for some time there may be some reluctance to change."

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