What to do with a problem like regional schools commissioners (RSCs)? This is an issue being wrestled with inside and outside the Department for Education right now.
Civil servants, politicians, Ofsted officials, policy wonks and educationalists are scrapping among themselves to work out what shape RSCs will take as the new multi-academy trust-based education system evolves.
A few years ago, RSCs were imagined on the back of a metaphorical fag packet as a solution to the “missing middle tier” as the emasculated local authorities were forced to withdraw from the education landscape.
But they were a simple solution to what is becoming an increasingly complex problem. There are lots of moving parts in this new system, involved to a lesser or greater extent in the policing of, commissioning of or improvement of schools. These parts include MATs, Ofsted, the DfE and the RSCs themselves. Who will be responsible for what if the current system is allowed to mature?
The purists – largely those who were supporters of the original Academies Movement and who backed Nicky Morgan’s plans for 100 per cent academisation – would like the RSC’s role restricted to its current function of identifying and then brokering or rebrokering failing schools.
Multi-academy trusts under fire
But with the MAT model under fire after the Wakefield City Academies Trust debacle, and still relatively immature, there are those, especially in the DfE, who would like to see the RSC's role extended into the remit of school improvement – identifying those schools that need help and intervening with aid before they crash and burn.
All of this, of course, raises questions about the role of Ofsted, which has in recent years looked increasingly keen on doing a little light school improvement itself. With the new chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, bedded in – and making noises about softening some of the inspectorate’s harder edges – it is clear that this is something that is still on the cards.
Of course, most senior figures in MATs take the purist’s approach: that it is their role to lead school improvement. Ofsted should stick to policing – and would be conflicted by any mission creep – and the RSCs to commissioning. But MATs do not enjoy the position of influence they once held, given all the recent controversies.
What this situation really needs is direction from the centre. It would be good if Justine Greening were to set out her vision for how the education system should work. If this vision were to prove both clear and logical, it would put a brake on all the manoeuvres and war games currently gumming up education’s little corner of Whitehall. It’s what’s badly needed.
Ed Dorrell is the head of content at Tes