The future of regional consortia

12 Jun

“When did the future switch from being a promise to a threat?” Chuck Palahniuk

Back in November 2012 the then Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, was describing the performance of regional consortia as, “to put it mildly, patchy.”  He was, he said, “no longer prepared to wait” for progress.  After all, the consortia were supposed to be up and running and delivering the much promised and hyped support to schools by September of that year.

Fast forward almost three years and the Estyn and Audit Office reports published this week into the performance of regional consortia make for pretty grim reading.

Teachers generally have come to the view that the consortia are more than prepared to take up the role of challenging schools, often without merit, basis or with a view on delivering an improved outcome.  Most teachers will tell you that consortia have ratched up significantly the high-stakes accountability regime that Professor Donaldson and the OECD have been so critical of in their analysis of Welsh education.  What you won’t find of course are teachers with many examples of where consortia have come in and provided support that has benefited their practice, their schools or most importantly their pupils.

Often it will be a case of consortia highlight the deficiency in a schools performance, an issue the school itself has no-doubt long since recognised, but without any expertise or suggestions for delivering improvements.  The individuals taking up consortia roles have very often not been classroom practitioners for some time and so cannot offer the direct practical support that is required, and are far more concerned with driving a school to data targets without appreciating the impact on the wider ability of that school to cater for its pupils.

The content of the Estyn and Audit Office reports are quite damning and reflect the fact that consortia have still yet to even remotely fulfil their original purpose of offering support to schools.  While some consortia appear to have been aiming to increase their role beyond the original objective they remain almost ignorant to their inability to deliver on the first and most vital task of supporting school improvement.  These are sweeping statements of course and there may be good practice available in some consortia working, however, sadly more often than not these generalisations ring true with the school workforce.

Some of the most damaging reviews within the reports state that:

  • All the regional consortia struggled to fill senior posts, which adversely affected their capacity to direct and manage work and highlights the lack of a national strategic approach to develop senior leaders.
  • None of the consortia has a medium-term plan in place to guide a strategic approach to school improvement.
  • None of the regional consortia has a coherent strategic approach to reduce the impact of deprivation on attainment.
  • None of the consortia has a fully developed and consistently used system to collate, analyse and share information about the progress of pupils and schools.
  • Progress was hindered by limited capacity, incomplete management structures, inadequate scrutiny of overall consortia arrangements, weaknesses in financial and performance management and insufficient openness and transparency.
  • There has also been a lack of medium-term planning and insufficient focus on arrangements to assess value for money.I can tell the Minister that

It was noteworthy that Simon Thomas AM said during the most recent question time to the Education Minister at the Senedd:

Plaid Cymru will abolish education consortia, because our plans for local government and public service reform will have in place the right balance between national leadership and local accountability, and they will no longer be needed. You seem to be suggesting that we continue to muddle along with mixed and messy accountability and mediocre educational improvements. What is your vision for local education authorities

There is merit to the idea of consortia as they were first envisioned.  The economies of scale and pooling of resources and support of having a body coordinating the work of local authority services on the face of it appears to make perfect sense.  However, the four consortia have developed into four completely separate and almost unrecognisable entities from one another and have strayed so far away from their original purpose that we do have to ask if the public are getting value for money when they are, as yet, continuing to lack delivery.  If performance does not dramatically increase there will rightly be questions about their long-term sustainability.


One Response to “The future of regional consortia”

  1. teachingbattleground June 17, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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