I recently met with Headteacher colleagues in East Lothian to discuss Community Based Management of Schools. The following is a summary of that meeting and will form the core of a briefing paper for members of staff and interested parties in the run up to our conference on Community Based Management of Schools to be held on the 22nd April at Queen Margaret University. The paper is not intended to answer every query relating to the concept but it will hopefully set out the parameters within which an informed discussion can take place.
It’s important from the outset to emphasise that we have been considering the potential of such a system since August 2006 when we first queried whether or not we (the central Education Service of East Lothian Council) added sufficient value to the education process in East Lothian. As a former Headteacher I was convinced – and remain so today – that the school is the most effective unit of educational improvement and is best placed to sustain these improvements over time. I also believe that those who work directly with learners have the most informed and credible opinions about the educational arrangements that will benefit those young people, particularly if their focus is on the learning and teaching process. In line with this principle we have continued to seek to put power in the hands of those who have a the most significant personal stake in the well-being of the school, and have sought to support this by devolving resources to the point where they can have the most effect.
Over the intervening years we have continued to build our local approach by developing the cluster model with primary schools and their local secondary school working in ever closer harmony. We have supported this model by moving to an outcome-based approach towards improvement which recognises that a one-size-fits-all approach to development does not work across our very different communities in East Lothian. This has empowered schools and clusters to develop their own solutions and strategies to achieve these outcomes, as opposed to slavishly having to implement a universal strategy which may not suit their context.
As our cluster model has developed so we have realigned our internal support support systems to reflect this change, hence our change to the validation of school self-evaluations based upon mutual trust and engagement – as opposed to a mini-inspection process. In a similar fashion we have moved all of our central management responsibilities to match the 3-18 age range – as opposed to discrete sectoral responsibilities – and matched this with a greater emphasis on local autonomy. The impact of this change has been to see a marked improvement in the outcome of East Lothian school inspections by HMIE over the last three years, all of which have identified a real capacity for improvement within our schools.
Over the last four years, therefore, we have been on a journey, which can be characterised as a shift from centralised, top-down control, to one where we have collectively created a much more responsive, sustainable, fit-for-purpose and user-centred model of service delivery.
This gradual migration from central control to cluster autonomy has been influenced by a number of factors. The first of these can be traced to the Scottish Executive’s 2006 publication entitled Transforming Public Services. In the introduction to that document the Scottish Executive challenged local communities and public services to work with them to identify reforms that will “transform” service delivery in their area – whilst recognising that some services will be delivered nationally, regionally or locally.
In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report on the quality of Scottish education. One of the key recommendations within that report that there was a lack of innovation and diversity in Scottish education caused by a lack of autonomy for school leaders. This was followed by East Lothian Council’s new political administration’s Corporate Plan 2008-2011, which set out a commitment to more localised community planning and service delivery. Finally, a factor which was not apparent in 2006 – but which has taken on much greater significance – is the financial crisis which is only just beginning to impact on Scottish public services.
It is against this backdrop that we have been encouraged to explore and consider alternative models of educational delivery in East Lothian which capitalise upon our strengths, take advantage of our current direction of travel, and seek to direct all available funding to the classroom. Nevertheless, regardless of the current budgetary pressures we would still be exploring Community Based Management of Schools as a model of educational delivery in East Lothian. The key driver here lies in what we see to be the importance of schools to their local communities, and communities to their local schools. For what we have in mind is a means of closing the gap between the local community and the schools which serve that same community through the development of a system which builds upon the tried and tested model of co-operative practice.
With the exception of parents (and even for parents that involvement is limited) the current system excludes the local community from any involvement in the management and governance of schools. However, the exceptional resources and expertise which reside in all of our East Lothian communities would suggest that our schools would have much to gain from tapping into that social capital, especially in a time of challenge. We are therefore committed to seeing people in our communities not as consumers but as participants and partners in the development of local services. By extending the local co-operative governance model to include all schools within a cluster, as opposed to individual schools, we believe that we can ensure a rich representation on a Board of Management which can sometimes prove difficult for smaller schools to achieve. The added benefit of seeing school education as a coherent path for children and young pelople aged 3- 18 will mean that a strong focus can be placed on transitions and mutual support – two areas which are often weaknesses in the current system.
Thereare numerous international examples to show that local accountability and collective responsibility for education can raise aspirations and educational achievement for young people. The challenge for us will be to create model in East Lothian which anticipates and avoids some of the pitfalls that have emerged in other systems of local governance, such as selection, exclusion, and a failure to support the needs of more vulnerable children – whether these needs be social and emotional, learning, or associated with disability.
It is this latter point, i.e. advocating for, and supporting the needs of the more vulnerable children in our communuities upon which we would intend to build our East Lothian model. For such a model to succeed it should be able to actively demonstrate that every child is “valued by”and “belongs to” their community, and that the concept of “these are our bairns” is lived out in practice in the school and the community through an integrated approach to supporting the needs of all children and young people. We believe such an aspiration to be exceptionally worthwhile – if also exceptionally difficult to achieve. However, there is significant risk if all centralised resources and mechanisms for supporting such children were to be “devolved” to the local level in a single step. What we want to promote is an approach which seeks to gradually migrate services to a local level, only when it is deemed to be more effective for young people – as opposed to adhering at all times to a point of principle.
Our proposed model of Community Based Management of Schools for East Lothian would build upon our existing cluster system in the following manner:
1. Identification and Devolution of as much and as many of the resources currently required to deliver education in that area to the cluster.
2. The Council would identify an unambiguous set of educational outcomes, with clear standards of delivery, to be achieved by the cluster on the Council’s behalf.
3. A Community Board of Management would be established to be accountable with local headteachers for the delivery of these outcomes and the use of devolved resources. The Board of Management would be made up of key stakeholders within the local community including, teachers, parents, headteachers, community members, young people, elected members.
4. The Council would monitor the quality of the outcomes at regular intervals and ensure that statutory obligations ere being satisfied.
5. The Council would gradually migrate more of the budget and associated areas of responsibility once the Council has satisfied itself that the cluster had the capacity to meet the standards of delivery required and, thereafter, realign the central provision of services accordingly.
6. As the system evolved the size and scale of the centre would become significantly reduced as responsibilities were shifted to the local level.
7. In the implementation phase the Council would continue to focus upon developing the capacity of clusters to work effectively to deliver the agreed outcomes.
The initial publicity that Community Based Management of Schools received was initially generated by the inclusion of a single line in a budget consultation referring to Trust status for schools, which was one of a wide range of possible cost reductions in education arising from the £1.9 million that we currently pay in the form of non-domestic rates for school buildings, which charitable trusts do not have to pay, e.g. Loretto School, Jewel and Esk College, Queen Margaret University.
It is important to point out that we do not see any of our clusters being in a position to move to Trust status in the immediate future. The key term to be used here is that of migration. For we have been on a journey over the last four years and it may be that some time in the future one or more of our clusters may be in a position to seek Trust status and use the savings generated through such a change in status to the benefit of education within their community. However, we would suggest that such a destination only forms the last 5% of our total journey and may or may not be a place where our communities decide they want to go.
1. Conference at Queen Margaret University 22nd April. Invitees include all East Lothian headteachers, union representatives, local elected members, parent council representatives, community council representatives, and guests from other local authorities, Scottish Government, Queen Margaret University. A key part of the conference will be to reflect upon a series of questions which have been generated about the model over the last six months.
2. Stakeholder Group established to reflect upon conference findings and to conduct further research and reflection into Community Based Management of Schools – with a particular focus upon how we might manage the identified risks associated with the model.
3. December 2010 Report submitted to East Lothian Council outlining the finding of the Group and making recommendations to Council.
4. Depending upon the decision by Council we could abandon or modify our vision for Community Based Management of Schools, or develop an implementation plan along the lines described above which would allow one or two clusters to volunteer to pilot the scheme from August 20011.