Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Secrecy' of RSC Advisory Board Meetings Denounced

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Secrecy' of RSC Advisory Board Meetings Denounced

Article excerpt

Despite government pledge for more openness, regional headteacher boards fail to disclose records of meetings

Powerful official committees that help make key decisions about the future of hundreds of schools have not released any record of their activities for more than half a year, TES can reveal.

The news that none of England's regional headteacher boards (HTBs) have published minutes since June, has led critics to condemn the "secrecy" surrounding the government's academies programme.

Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael told TES: "There's a paucity of useful information available online about the work of headteacher boards. Failing to publish meeting minutes in a timely fashion does little to improve this potentially promising component of the regional schools commissioners (RSC) system.

"The Department for Education [DfE] and RSCs need to up their game and ensure up-to-date information is published to ensure there is transparency and accountability."

His committee warned in January about a lack of transparency in RSCs' work. The eight regional commissioners, and the HTBs that advise them, have become some of the most powerful figures in the education system.

The government had promised more openness about how the boards operate, but TES has discovered that one board, for South East England and South London, has not published the minutes of any meetings since 5 May.

The boards meet in private up to twice a month and help decide which schools become academies, who runs them, which schools are not performing well enough and which free school applications are approved.

The most up-to-date record of any HTB meeting was for the South West region's board on 13 June, when decisions affecting more than 30 schools and colleges were discussed (see box, below).

Robert Hill, an education consultant and former Downing Street adviser to Tony Blair, who describes himself as "broadly speaking, pro-academy", called for parents to be given information about what was happening to their schools, and why.

"This is an area where we need transparency," he said. "We need to have some understanding of why schools are going to some trusts rather than others. We are talking about a lot of public money moving about.

"On the whole, I think most RSCs and HTBs would generally be acting from good motives, but we need to operate in a transparent environment and we need to let the light in."

His views were echoed by Angela Rayner, Labour shadow education secretary, who said it was "absolutely unacceptable" that no minutes had been published since prime minister Theresa May took office. …

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