26 SES 11 A, Exploring Aspects of Teacher and Middle Leadership
Across Europe, education systems are trying to improve and some are exploring new models. England’s Department for Education (DfE) has converted half of maintained schools to academies; 72% of secondary schools are now academies and 27% of primary schools. Just over 50% of all pupils attend academies which are publicly funded but, unlike maintained schools, they are independent of local authorities (LA). Our research question was, What are thethe comparative costs of the middle tiers for LA-maintained schools and for academies? The research focus on the cost comparison of the two middle tiers working alongside each other must be seen in the context of current evidence that overall pupil performance of the academies is similar to maintained schools (Greany and Higham, 2018).
The ‘middle tier’ has been defined in different ways and the paper explores various definitions and international practices of system oversight but for the research it was defined as the systems of support and accountability connecting publicly-funded local authority (LA) maintained schools and academies with the DfE.
Our research found a complex and confusing picture. The current system of oversight was problematic and seen as a ‘muddle’. Indeed, we found that in England the middle tier is made up of many organisations Some have elements of statutory roles: LAs, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), National College of Teaching and Learning (NCTL) and Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC), multi-academy trusts (MATs) and Diocesan Boards for faith schools. There are in addition many service providers that trusts and LA schools can choose from. Some are state-subsidised, such as Teaching Schools and school-led partnerships, others have charitable status or are private companies.
Middle tier organisations may function at the local, the sub-regional, and/or the regional level. However, what is defined as a ‘region’ varies: in England it’s divided into nine government office regions but eight regions for Schools Commissioners and Teaching School Councils (TSC) – and diocesan areas are different to both. We identified middle tier functions, using government documents and OECD analyses (OECD, 2018), under four main headings – finance, accountability, access and people.
In addressing our central research question of comparing England’s two systems, the paper makes comparisons with middle tier leadership in four international high performing jurisdictions – Singapore, Estonia, Finland and Ontario, Canada. In making these comparisons we draw upon the conceptual framework developed by Michael Fullan of ‘Leadership from the Middle (2015). This is defined as “a deliberate strategy that increases the capacity and internal coherence of the middle as it becomes a more effective partner upward to the state and downward to its schools and communities, in pursuit of greater system performance” (2015: 24). The principle is that top-down leadership does not last due to lack of sustainable buy-in from professionals; bottom-up change (e.g. school autonomy) doesn’t result in overall system improvement: some schools improve, others don’t and the gap between high and low performers increases.
A strong message from the research into high performing systems is that to maintain equity as well as excellence there needs to be a coordinating influence across a locality or region. All four jurisdictions were consistent in their use of a coherent middle tier whatever the extent of devolution of decision-making. Effectively leading from the middle tier is fundamental to system success yet our research into the English educational system raised a number of major concerns.
The research took place over four months (October 2018 to January 2019) and as far as we are aware it is the first study of its kind; it has been conducted in a thorough manner and is replicable. It made use of several methods of data collection: statistical information in the public domain and via Freedom of Information requests and interview based case studies. More specifically, it has examined and analysed: • The key features of the middle tier in four leading education systems: Singapore, Finland, Estonia and Ontario. • The main organisations forming the middle tier in England and their comparative costs in 2016/17. • The issues around the middle tier in case studies of three contrasting geographical areas (a metropolitan area, a shire county and a London borough), by interviewing headteachers, local authority directors of education, MAT CEOs, Diocesan directors, heads of school partnerships and a regional schools commissioner. • The funding and expenditure for LA maintained schools and academies in 2016/17, using existing published data sets and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to LAs and the DfE. Significant limitations in the available financial data hindered the identification of specific middle tier costs. The DfE does not publish information about the costs of the functions performed by the RSC, NCTL ESFA and MATs. The analysis had therefore to focus on identifying the differences in funding between the LA-maintained schools and academies and trying to explain these differences. This has involved considering variations in characteristics that affect core funding as well as gathering information on specific funding streams for academies to reflect their additional responsibilities. The paper also raises issues around dealing with agencies that choose not to provide data requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
We also found that all four high performing education systems have a coherent middle tier, whatever the extent of school autonomy or devolution of decision-making. Multi Academy Trusts are an important part of the middle tier. Large MATs might be expected to gain from economies of scale, but the research found this not to be the case. Academies belonging to large MATs had the highest cost per pupil. The high costs per pupil suggest that large MATs needed a disproportionately greater number of leadership posts to exercise direction and accountability across all the academies in their trust, which in 2016/17 had not yet been offset by any economies of scale. The research found that secondary academies in large MATs have proportionately more leaders: 132.1 pupils per leader compared to 145.4 pupils per leader for LA maintained schools. However, one would expect academies to have comparatively lower levels of funding overall, because they have pupil characteristics that are less costly to support, i.e. lower levels of additional and special needs, and a very low proportion of rural schools. Most of the difference in expenditure between academies and LA-maintained schools and between different sizes of trusts is attributable to higher pay levels for headteachers and greater numbers of senior leaders in the academy system, including CEOs and COOs. The study concludes that an unintended consequence of school autonomy, system fragmentation, and funding restrictions has seen the worsening of provision for vulnerable pupils. The four leading international systems, which prioritise equity for all pupils as well as sustaining high performance, provide a sharp contrast. They all have a strong, educator-led, middle tier which ensures that resources are used to support the improvement of all students in all schools.
Fullan, M. (2015) ‘Leadership from the Middle: A system strategy’ Education Canada. December 2015 pp 22-26 Greany, T. and Higham, R. (2018) Hierarchy, Markets & Networks: Analysing the ‘self-improving school-led system’ in England and the implications for schools. London: UCL IOE Press. Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C. and Barber, M. (2010) How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better. London: McKinsey & Company. OECD (2018) Education at a Glance 2018, OECD Indicators, Paris: OECD. Sahlberg, P. (2015) Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (2nd edition), New York: Teachers College Press. Simkins, T., Coldron, J., Crawford, M. and Maxwell, B. (2018) Emerging schooling landscapes in England: how primary system leaders are responding to new school groupings, Educational Management, Administration and Leadership. Toh, Y., Hung, D., Chua, P. and Jamaludin, S. (2016) Pedagogical Reforms within a Centralised-Decentralised System: A Singapore’s Perspective to Diffuse 21st Century Learning Innovations. International Journal of Educational Management, 30 (7) 1247–67.
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