Just two fixed-term roles are currently being advertised – one for trust development and the other for academy school improvement – to work in the Sheffield office of John Edwards, RSC for the East Midlands and the Humber, for between six and nine months.
But a report on the Schools Week website suggests this is “a trial run for a wider recruitment policy that could be replicated across the country”.
Prospect, which represents school improvement officers across the UK, has a number of questions.
The advert expects successful candidates to be “highly skilled in school improvement” for the first post and in “multi-academy trust development work” for the second post. It expects them to come from either schools or trusts but “would not rule out candidates with the appropriate skills and experience from other areas of the system”.
Once in post, the new experts will be expected to train colleagues, including a “cadre of education advisers”, on improvement strategies, while also working with MAT chief executives.
Prospect national secretary Steve Thomas said: “Academies and multi-academy trusts must be subject to the same standards and quality control as schools maintained by local authorities, so we welcome this recognition of the need for qualified school improvement professionals in these settings, but would like more detail.
“The Department for Education needs to consider where these professionals are going to be recruited from and whether their background and expertise is sufficient for the demands for the jobs.
“For example, if they are recruited from multi-academy trusts, there is a risk that they may lack experience outside of their own schools.”
Prospect argues that school improvement officers must be committed to improving educational outcomes for the whole community, with a focus on equality of opportunity for all learners.
They need to be objective, impartial, credible professionals who can capture and share best practice from across hundreds of schools, the union says. Independence from the schools they support is crucial.
Thomas added: “The traditional route for recruiting and employing school improvement officers was via local authorities. They had statutory responsibilities to ensure there were enough school places; educational standards were achieved and the needs of vulnerable children were met. This meant there was a chain of accountability.
“However, our experience is that local authorities have shed many posts due to funding cuts or have set up separate entities to offer traded services that save money.
“If regional schools commissioners are to become a further vehicle for recruiting school improvement officers, the same principles of accountability – along with proper resourcing – are crucial for success. And it should not be at the expense of local authority or other school improvement professionals.”
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