Meeting the needs of our customers

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with a chief executive of a major UK service company.  In terms of the bottom line there can be few people I’ve ever encountered who adopt a more concentrated and determined focus on making the business ‘hit it’s numbers’. However, as we spoke it became obvious that in order to ‘hit the numbers’ the organisation places service quality and customer experience at the heart of making the business work.

What fascinated – and surprised me – was that I had more in common with this leader of British industry than I might have expected.  There is a tendency amongst those of us who work in the public sector to imagine that we somehow inhabit the higher moral ground than those who are simply motivated by filthy lucre.  Yet time after time, this person challenged my perceptions by continually reflecting upon how the managers and staff in the organisation place the needs of customers at the forefront of their practice.  So much so that the chief executive often ‘cold calls’ on outlets and tests the customer orientation of the team.

The logic behind such practice is very clear – if customers don’t enjoy or appreciate the service they are given then the chances of them spending their money again with that particular service company is very unlikely. In turn the chief executive then asked me whether or not I thought schools were accountable the same manner.  Of course, private schools have a paying relationship with the customer – where custom can be withdrawn – but no such transactional relationship exists in the state sector.

It made me think again about the nature of the relationship between schools and parents in the state sector.  If a parent can’t pay for private education, and cannot move their child to another school due to lack of transport, or the fact that another school is unavailable how does the customer influence the quality of the provision?  Quite simply the only route open to them is to complain if the quality is not to their satisfaction.  Yet in terms of my friend’s company such a limited form of customer feedback would be far too late based upon the fact that many people don’t complain they just take their business elsewhere.

So one could argue that state schools are relatively closed environments in terms of customer accountability. Where else in a citizen’s life – other in than the health service – are a customer’s options so limited? Think of our internet providers; supermarkets; car manufacturers; restaurants; banks; etc. – the common feature is that we  – where, if so inclined, can take our business elsewhere.

But surely a school is accountable through its local education authority and through that to the local council with locally elected members, and finally through inspection bodies such as Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate? Surely that is enough? Once again its worthwhile thinking of private sector examples – most of which have similar accountabilities through shareholders, boards, and audit processes – in addition to the accountability to the customer.  Yet none of them would think that such ‘outward facing’ accountability takes precedence over the needs and preferences of the customer.

It’s at this point in this line of logic that most of us involved in Scottish education come to an abrupt halt – because the next step takes us into unthinkable territory – i.e. some form of direct accountability to the customer. Our first problem lies in the notion of education having ‘customers’ –  it’s an area I’ve explored on numerous occasions and without fail it stimulates intense antagonism from educationalists who see any notion of education being ‘productised’ as a step too far.

However, my fear in the current financial environment is that a local authority’s capacity to act as the prime agency to which schools are accountable is under huge pressure.  Yet we know that headteachers would prefer to retain the status quo in terms of line management accountability – and that there is no certainly appetite for parental governance. So here we are at an impasse – which may not become completely obvious for another couple of years.

On hearing this the chief executive asked whether or not there was any opportunity for the management to opt out – in commercial terms the concept would be akin to a ‘management buy out’ I explained that we have explored such models before but that there had been no appetite from parents for self-management.  But that wasn’t what the chief executive had in mind –  “customers don’t opt out – but managers can” was the response.  And so we explored the notion of how a management team in a school might negotiate a  ‘management buy-out’ from the local authority. The biggest shift in such a model would be that the school would have to set up a board of governance – with a very clear and unambiguous focus on meeting the needs of its customers.

I tried to explain that there were huge obstacles in even contemplating such an idea but the chief executive warmed to the challenge and put it to me that surely the system must provide space for its best managers to operate in a more directly accountable manner with their customers.

We decided to leave it there but the idea has remained with me ever since – gnawing away at my imagination at how such a seemingly crazy idea might actually work.

Community Police- “the flying squad”

Stenton Primary School is a true community school, so it was no surprise yesterday when I popped in that they were working with PC Ross (an ex-pupil of mine) and PC Hughes.

The two officers are working with our schools in the Dunbar area and developing very positive relationships with all young people.

Here they are helping two pupils to put up a bird box. Thanks.

The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

Microfinance: supporting social enterprise for student and community benefit


Option 29 described in the curriculum for excellence senior phase post was described simply as: Establish a microfinance investment fund for student application.

I’ve been asked by a number of people to explain what I meant by this and how it might work.

This option has a number of threads but the starting point is founded upon a perceived need to encourage students to actively create social enterprises which will benefit their communities, and in turn,themselves.

The idea is not new and is rooted in the Grameen Bank  concept, although with more of a focus upon community benefit and personal/group development, rather than tackling poverty. The scheme should certainly tackle some of the symptoms of poverty within communities.


The concept is based upon the establishment of a microfinance fund using donations from local business people and other sources – councils included.  This money would be placed in a trust to which students, or other members of a community, could submit an application for a micro loan which would allow them to establish and develop their social enterprise. The only stipulation – aside from the viability of the plan – would be that the proposal must have a direct benefit to their local community.

An example we have been developing relates to an Elders Buddy Scheme. Let’s say that a student (or students) at the school applies to the fund for an interest free loan to set up the buddy scheme, which will involve families or individuals paying a minimal fee for a young person to spend 5 hours week making an evening home visit to an elderly person. The social entrepreneur/s, would use the loan – to a maximum £1000 – to pay for advertising, information materials, recruitment, training, disclosure fees, and other costs.

The microfinance fund would seek to provide additional support through a business /community mentor and a further network of relevant contacts  and fellow social entrepreneurs.

Areas of possible community benefit include; early years and child care; elderly care; youth programmes; disability support; and environment.

Obviously there are numerous working details missing from this description but in order to keep this post brief and to the point I’ll focus upon the benefits to the indviduals and the community they inhabit, and the possible problems.

Here’s a list of possible benefits:

  1. Young people are introduced to the world of work and enterprise in a real and meaningful manner.
  2. Communituties would benefit from the services provided.
  3. Experience in developing and running a social enterprise would be highly regarded on applications for employment or further/higher education.
  4. Young people develop real experience in financial management.
  5. It gives meaning to other academic studies as they become contextualised in a world of work and social duty.
  6. If  recognised as part of a young person’s senior phase curriculum it would enhance and  deepen that experience.
  7. It would promote comunity engagement and awareness of young people with/about their community.
  8. It woukd raise the positive profile of young people in their communities.
  9. Encourages young people to take the next step into running businesses for themselves.
  10. Promotes and entrepreneurial spirit in a community/school.

And possible problems:

  1. Loans are not repaid
  2. Enterprises collapse as young people leave their communities for further study or employment
  3. Services to vulnerable groups are not sustained
  4. Existing services with full time employees are placed at risk due to competition.
  5. Schools do not recognise the value of the scheme and only allow high achieving students to particpate or do not facilitate time  for involvement.
  6. The scheme does not offer sufficient support in the initial stages
  7. The bureaucracy of the application process is too off putting and complex.
  8. Funding is too short term.
  9. Insufficient number of financial backers.
  10. Works only in areas of high net worth and not in communites which might really benefit.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Further reading:

What can social finance learn from microfinance

Social innovation

Peer to peer microfinance for young people

Youth enterprise

Microcredit for young entrepreneurs

It takes a community to raise a child

“Broken society”, “disconnected youth”, “dysfunctional communities” have been just some of the headlines following the recent riots across the UK, and torrents of words have followed, but vital in all of this and little mentioned is the relationship between a school and its local community.

As society looks for explanations and solutions for the recent troubles, those of us in Scotland cannot be complacent. Gang violence, knife crime, and youth offending in some Scottish communities are among the highest levels in Europe. Yet in these communities we have schools where these same young people conduct themselves in a very different manner. They are not perfect in any way, and statistics would suggest that far too many of our children are disengaged, excluded and failing to achieve. But it is a fact that our schools are essentially safe places where standards of behaviour are generally good.

So why do we see such a discrepancy between what happens in school and in what happens in our communities?

I would suggest that for too long schools have seen themselves as islands within their communities. Too often we have sought to create a school environment which sets itself outwith the local community. It creates its own ethos, values, and standards of behaviour, and as long as young people conform to these values in school, we feel that we’ve done our job. As educationists, we labour under the misapprehension that young people will be able to carry these values out into their homes and communities – and in that way we’ve done the best we can.

The reality is that many of our young people don’t see any connection between the school and their community, and perhaps that’s where we need to focus our attention.

Seeking definitions of what we mean by “community” does not really help – at the last count there were over 95 separate definitions. However, if we look for the common threads within these definitions, there begins to emerge a consensus around some key features.

A community usually has a number of characteristics, namely, membership or belonging, influence, integration and fulfilment of needs, and a shared emotional connection. I’m pleased to note that our schools fulfil these characteristics for many of our young people. But how many of our communities can claim any such fulfilment? Young people repeatedly claim to be excluded from their communities. They have no sense of membership – in fact, for some young people, they are explicitly excluded. The community certainly does not fulfil their needs, nor do they have any influence over community (at least in legitimate terms). But above all, a significant minority of our young people have no emotional attachment or sense of belonging to their community, or the other people who share that community.

So what do they do instead? They create these attachments to geographical territory (not their communities). They seek approval for acts which reinforce their connection to their peers – these acts are often referred to as “anti-social” in our terms – but are highly social in terms of the young people themselves. Finally, they see their needs met by membership of a group that provides them with a sense of belonging.

Before those of us in schools become too comfortable with such an accusatory view of our local communities, I would suggest that some of the blame lies with ourselves. Of course, one might expect that – schools are often put down as the source of so many of society’s ills. Yet I believe schools have retreated from their communities over the last 50 years. This is done partly to protect their own integrity, and partly because communities themselves have not seen a part for them to play in the education of young people.

It was Morgan Scott Peck, the eminent American psychiatrist, and author of A Road Less Travelled, who suggested that there were four stages of community building. The first of these was what he termed “pseudo-community”. This is where we pretend to be a community but in actual fact we hide our differences for the sake of being able to claim community status. I’d suggest that is where most of us reside in terms of relationships between schools and their local community – happy to use the terms of reference but, when examined in any real depth, failing to fulfil the any of the previous characteristics of a true community.

Peck saw the second – and necessary – stage of community building to be chaos. That is, he thought that the only way to break free from the comfortable phony community status was for some form of chaos to ensue which brought the community to confront the reality of the situation.

Perhaps that’s what we have just experienced in the UK. The chaos has brought us to our senses. It has made us reflect upon the reality of the situation.

Peck’s third phase is where most of us now are – a sense of emptiness and loss. But if we follow Peck’s line of travel, there is a chance that we could see “true” communities emerging from this process.

For me – ever the optimist – I see this as an exciting opportunity to challenge the pseudo-community links that we often have between schools and communities and, instead, create something which conforms much more to the aspiration of “It takes a community to raise a child”.

Community Based Governance of Schools

We held a successful conference on the 22nd May with over 170 delegates representing local headteachers, education and other East Lothian Council staff, elected members, parent council reps, community council reps and delegates from outwith East Lothian.

Highlights of the day were the sessions presented by Professor Richard Kerley and Professor Dennis Mongon.

Richard Kerley had a piece printed in the Times Educational Supplement which is certainly worth reading.

Denis Mongon provided us with five cameos in a wide ranging and practical description of possible governance models.  He finished by suggesting that a Community Based Governance (note – not management) model was potentially the most effective.

The cameos are as follows:

1. The Conglomerate

Schools would be educational brands delivering highly standardised educational provision across a number of sites. Think of Starbucks or Tesco.  Authority, would be delegated from the corporate centre to other sites through a franchise or subsidiary scheme to ensure consistency.

 Key rules, working methods, branding and strategy would remain identical throughout. Parents and children would have little voice in the running of the school and local heads would act as incentivised ‘branch managers’. Governance would tend to be formal though not overly procedural.

While capable of entering into partnership with other public sector partners and community actors, these partnerships would be contract based and imply little integration.

2. Professional Governance

Senior professionals could form a partnership (as in accountancy and law) to run one or more schools. The partners would be akin to equity holders. As in a professional service firm the partners could hire managers to administer the business.

The partnership would allow skilled teaching professionals to focus on what they do best. This model needs to attract and reward good teachers, by making them partners. Partners might enjoy a dividend in the form of money, time or freedom.

The governance framework would maximise the partners’ commitment and they would make the key decisions. Parents, children and the wider community would have a limited say in overall governance. They would buy into the “professional” partnership ethos of the schools involved.

3. Consumer Governance

Parents could own and certainly govern schools which might then come together in a larger collaborative, sharing resources and a philosophy of parental involvement in education.

Parents would be directly involved in electing a board or governing council.

There might be common policies on parental commitment. For example, all parents might sign up to a contract setting out what they commit to put into the school. The parent ‘Council’ would be responsible for making major appointments and deciding major educational policy issues – the framework of goals and values – within which the staff would work. The council would appoint the head who would report to the parent council.

The key to this model would be strong parental leadership

4. Alliance Governance

An alliance of schools might be organised along the lines of, say, NATO. An alliance might work within a locality, across a region or it could be a national alliance of schools specialising in particular subjects.

The members of the alliance agree to collaborate and pool resources, but for limited objectives and without compromising their capacity to act independently, with different educational philosophies, admissions policies and distinct governance procedures. A school might be in overlapping alliances, each focussed on a different issue. Alliance governance could take different forms.

To deliver effective change, a diplomatic style of alliance leadership would have to be combined with ‘command and control’ style leadership for the agreed objectives.

5. Community Governance

Schools and perhaps other providers would make a joint commitment to one another, to pool resources, share services and develop a common education philosophy. This is akin to a political federation such as the United States or the EU.

Governance would depend on principles of subsidiarity, specifying the decisions taken at individual school level and those taken by the ‘Trust’ on behalf of the whole.

The keys to success would be:

the ability to mobilise commitment from multiple stakeholders, and

combining democratic ethos with dynamic leadership of the whole.

Professor Mongon concluded by suggesting that governance works best:

Where the professional school leaders have a sense of the school as a community and then locate that community within a framework of geographical and service communities.

Where the strategic authorities, local and central government, have a strategic, commissioning role – not a micro-management role – which they exercise to promote the sense of community.

Where governance arrangements reflect the relationship between schools and the communities they serve or work with: mutual interdependence and shared capacity for improvement.

A closing question:

If the five cameos presented by Professor Mongon can be metaphorically represented by Tesco; a Law firm; Swedish Free Schools; Nato; and the EU, I wonder what might be the most appropriate metaphor for the current school governance model extant in Scotland?

Community Based Management of Schools: A migration, not a jump

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.

Next Steps

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.

Community Based Management of Schools 2017 – Witness Statement (2)

This is the second of 6 witness statements reflecting upon Community Based Management of Schools from the perspective of 2017. See Witness Statement (1)


Witness Statement (2)

So you want me to give you an honest opinion on the debacle that has been Community Based Management of Schools? Do you really mean that?  OK – you have been warned!

I had been the Headteacher of a school in one of the first two clusters in East Lothian to take on Community Based Management status in 2011.  I’d been reluctant about getting involved from the very start.  Partly due to the lack of clarity about what it meant for us as Headteachers and the fact that I really enjoyed my job and didn’t want to take on any more responsibility for schools which really didn’t have anything in common with my own, aside from the fact that we were in the same town.

Given the inital publicity about the proposals a lot of parents and community members generated a momentum which we couldn’t really hold back but I knew from the start that it was destined to be a disaster. 

I’d always set my ultimate career goal to be a Headteacher and I think I was really good at my job.  Our school had received a very positive HMIE inspection report in 2010 we were judged to have a good capacity for improvement.  I had a great Parent Council and we were managing our resources within the budget which the authority allocated to us.  However, at that time around 2010 the entire country was overwhelmed by the deepest recession which the UK had experienced since the war and we were all caught in the headlights of that crisis. I reckon it was this concern that panicked us into taking such a drastic step.  Nevertheless, I was confident that we could have managed to chart a course through that time if we had been left to get on with by ourselves.

My biggest issue with the proposal was that I saw it to simply be a system for the authority to pass on all the risk and responsibility for budgets to the schools.  Over the previous few years more and more of the budget responsibility had been devolved to us but there were still some key budgets which were retained at the centre.  I had always thought that to be fair as I believed it to be important that we needed to be protected from the burden of unexpected costs.  It was my job to manage the quality of learning and teaching in my school – anything which detracted from that focus could only be of detriment to children in our care.

The second problem I foresaw was the inevitability of ill-informed parental interference in the educational process and operational management of my school (in fact it was to be worse than that as it wasn’t just parents but members of our community who were given the power to interfere!).  Our Parent Council had been a great success and was certainly an improvement on the previous School Board.  We had a group of parents who were representative of all stages within our school and I provided them with monthly reports on all aspects of the school.  They took great interest in our curriculum and the learning and teaching process and helped us on numerous occasions to liaise with the authority on issues of mutual concern.  They also provided a excellent social unit to bring parents together and also to fundraise to assist the school.  So why change? – I’m still trying to work that one out!

That first  Board of Management was skewed towards a particular type of parent.  If I were to be generous I would describe them to be evangelical in their desire to “improve” the school.  It was as if the leash had been released and all of a sudden an incredible range of  initiatives and programmes – most of which were driven by individuals who had their own specific, and very personal, interest in that topic. In addition to this we had some members of our community who became members of the Board who held long time grudges against the school – dating back to well before my time.  They saw this as an opportunity to “fix” the school – even though it had moved on during the intervening years.  A consequence of that was that individual teachers were often identified as being the problem and entire meetings were taken up with trying to work out what could be done about “Ms ……”

You can imagine the difficulty that such a situation created.  I tried to protect my Parent Council from the Board of Management but it was inevitable that tensions would grow as the Board saw it necessary to go one way whilst we – as a school – felt it necessary to go another.  A key contributor to those earliest problems was the fact the the authority no longer provided each school with their own budget but allocated a budget to the entire cluster in a single lump sum.  Well, you can imagine the bun fight that ensued as each of the Heads and their parental representatives tried to argue for a greater proportion of the diminishing resources.  I’ll never forget on one occasion how one parent arrived at the meeting having worked out that they had 15% more children who lived in the most deprived areas in our town – and tried to use that for a reason for gaining a funding advantage.  It was things like this that started to set Headteachers against each other.  I’ll never forgive the authority for that as we had always previously got on so well and had even socialised together on many occasions.  As you know, once relationships have broken down there is no easy way to build them up again.

Another consequence was the complete undermining of my authority within the school. I no longer could make quick decisions about matters which previously I could have taken in a couple of minutes.  The fact that we were expected to follow common policies within our community made us lose some of the valued systems that we had built up over a number of years. This was particularly the case with some of our curricular programmes which we had to drop in order to fit in with the rest

The other real issue I had with the whole idea was how it forced us to apply common behaviour support practices.  The cluster had also decided to invest in some additional support for young people outside school and had decided to pay for two Community Learning and Development leaders who were paid to work with children outwith the school following reference from staff in the school.  What really got to me was the fact that a significant part of their salaries was actually coming from my budget!

I could go onto list some of the myriad of problems we encountered: refusal of the authority to take responsibility for repairs and maintenance (they said we had the money); having to manage the long term absence budget with no back stop; no authority curricular support officers; a parental expectation that they could get anything they wanted if they just spoke to the Board; an expectation that extra-curricular activities were now part of every teachers job; and a reluctance for anyone in the authority to accept any responsibility for anything.

The final straw came when the Board of Management decided they wanted to appoint a Chief Operating Officer from amongst our Headteacher ranks.  They had increased the remuneration for this post by nearly 25% through the job sizing process but also by adding an additional premium from our own resources.  I did feel obliged to apply as the longest serving Headteacher in the cluster but was not surprised when they appointed another of the Headteachers in the cluster to the post.  I resigned/retired not long after that time but I have heard from friends that things have continued to go from bad to worse.  It won’t surprise me in the least when I hear that this crazy scheme has been abandoned and that someone has come up with the bright idea of a system where schools – once again – are given their own independence to operate solely to meet the needs of the children who attend their own school.