ASCL Blueprint


Structures and systems which support and reward schools and colleges for providing all children and young people with a high-quality, broad and challenging education. These structures and systems encourage and enable everyone working in schools and colleges to act for the good of all children and young people, not just those in their own institutions.

All schools and colleges are part of strong, supportive partnerships, in which every institution is both a ‘giver’ and a ‘taker’. Staff in these partnerships work together collaboratively, and actively seek ways to share knowledge, expertise and resources. They are a key mechanism for supporting struggling schools to improve, and for the development and dissemination of high quality teaching and learning. They consider themselves collectively responsible for all the children and young people in the partnership, and work closely with other local education providers to ensure a joined-up approach across a local area.

The system is evolving towards a partnership model based on strong multi-academy trusts; this evolution is taking place at an appropriate pace, and with the support of schools and colleges of all types. But there continues to be a role for other forms of strong legal partnership, with shared governance, such as ‘hard’ federations of maintained schools, as well as looser collaborations between schools. These include partnerships between independent and state schools.

High-quality specialist provision, including alternative provision, is available in every area, and specialist providers are an integral part of local partnerships.

There is clarity and consistency around the role of different bodies, particularly ‘middle tier’ organisations such as local authorities and Regional Schools Commissioners. System governance, as well as the governance of individual schools, colleges and trusts, is strong.

Admissions processes to all schools are fair and easy to understand. They seek to prioritise children and young people from less advantaged backgrounds.

Schools and colleges are held to account in a proportionate, intelligent, supportive way. The accountability system recognises the different contexts in which different schools and colleges operate, and seeks to minimise potentially distorting effects or unintended consequences. It actively encourages organisations to work collaboratively for the good of all children and young people in a local area.

Schools are held to account against the national curriculum, and against a slim and intelligent set of nationally agreed measures which go beyond academic performance. There is also capacity for individual schools or colleges, or groups of schools and colleges, to determine additional measures against which they want to hold themselves to account.

Schools and colleges which serve more challenging communities are given greater support to enable their pupils to achieve the highest possible standards.

Many schools now work together in effective collaborative structures, and our collective understanding is growing about the types of structures and approaches which are most likely to lead to genuine improvements in educational outcomes. The pandemic has required and incentivised schools and colleges to forge new partnerships, which could bring long-term benefits.

However, we lack a clear, shared vision for the overall structure within which schools and colleges should operate. There have been some heavy-handed attempts to coerce schools into becoming academies and joining multi-academy trusts, which have left some schools feeling resentful and unappreciated, and hampered attempts to create a more streamlined system. This somewhat chaotic approach to system reform has also led to the failure of some academy trusts (with serious ramifications for their communities), left some schools isolated and struggling to find effective support and challenge, and made it harder for strong schools to collaborate effectively and share good practice.

Access to high quality specialist provision, including alternative provision, is patchy, with some children and young people having to travel significant distances, or not being able to access appropriate provision at all.

The ‘middle tier’ between central government and individual schools, colleges and trusts is complex and confusing, with the roles of different bodies too often unclear or overlapping. One of the most pernicious effects of this is that it makes school support and improvement more difficult and less effective.

The school admissions code, rightly, requires schools to prioritise our most disadvantaged children and young people – those who are looked after or have previously been looked after – but there is little incentive for schools to prioritise other disadvantaged children in their admissions policies.

This lack of an incentive to inclusivity is exacerbated by England’s high-stakes accountability system. This also leads to increased workload and stress for teachers and leaders (contributing to our issues with retention), a narrowing of the curriculum, and a tendency to pit schools and colleges against each other rather than encouraging collaboration.

Financial accountability can be equally high stakes, with the collapse of some trusts and re-brokering of individual or groups of schools, and the issuing of financial notices to improve to many others. Company law and financial accountability measures under which academies have to work have increased transparency in this part of the sector, but also create a discrepancy between academies and maintained schools.

Current accountability metrics, including Ofsted grades, correlate closely with factors outside of a school or college’s control18. This makes it extremely difficult for schools to succeed in a system which sets one school against another, and doesn’t provide sufficient additional support to schools and colleges serving more deprived communities. The impact of this is to actively discourage leaders and teachers from working in more disadvantaged areas.

Opportunities and support for all schools and colleges to be part of a strong, sustainable group, in which every school or college both gives and receives support.
The government should recognise that, while many of these groups will be multi-academy trusts, there continues to be a role for other forms of strong legal partnership, with shared governance, such as ‘hard’ federations of maintained schools. Schools should be encouraged to form effective partnerships which suit their needs and contexts, with struggling schools strongly encouraged to join these partnerships in order to receive the support they need to improve.

Specialist and alternative provision should be an integral part of local partnerships. Independent schools should be enabled and encouraged to join or work closely with these partnerships.

The evolution of the current, rather messy, ‘middle tier’ (including local authorities and Regional Schools Commissioners) into a clearer, more effective set of enabling organisations.
We see merit in the proposals put forward by Matt Hood and Laura McInerney19, and by the EDSK think tank20, to streamline and clarify the middle tier. These propose slightly different models, but both involve the creation of a single structure with appropriate local democratic oversight and coordination.

A review of the school admissions code to require all schools to do more to prioritise disadvantaged children.
This review should consider the potential benefits of requiring all schools to prioritise all children eligible for the pupil premium, or all children in persistent poverty, in the same way as they are already required to prioritise looked after children and previously looked after children.

The introduction of an ‘accountability dashboard’ or ‘balanced scorecard’ as the key accountability mechanism for all schools or groups of schools.
This should include some nationally determined measures, based on the core curriculum, but also other measures that are nationally or locally considered important. Measures could include information on pupil outcomes (e.g. attainment measures, progress measures, destination data), on curriculum provision (e.g. subjects available, time allocations for different subjects), on staff development (e.g. teacher retention, time allocation for professional development), on inclusion (e.g. attendance rates, exclusion rates), and on the school or college’s impact on and engagement with the broader education landscape.

Evaluation of a school or college’s performance against the measures in this dashboard should form the core of the inspection process. In the immediate future, these measures will need to take into account the changes to statutory assessments and examinations during the pandemic. They should also reflect what we, both nationally and in individual schools and colleges, believe children and young people most need in order to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The introduction of a window of time between a leader taking on a new school, and that school being inspected.
Improving a school, particularly one serving more disadvantaged communities, takes time. If we want to encourage strong leaders to lead challenging schools, they need to feel supported to do so. Many of the changes we call for in the Blueprint would, if implemented, encourage leaders to take on this challenge. Alongside these, we would also like to see an explicit agreement that, unless there are safeguarding concerns or a school explicitly requests an inspection, a school would not be inspected within two years of a new headteacher taking up post.

The ability for Ofsted to inspect formal groups of schools.​
As more and more schools join multi-academy trusts and other formal partnerships, it is becoming increasingly anachronistic that the inspection regime remains predicated on a model of single, standalone schools. Currently, Ofsted can only carry out summary evaluations of the quality of education provided by a MAT by inspecting a sample of their schools, despite a MAT being a single legal entity. Careful consideration needs to be given to the framework under which MATs would be inspected, who would carry out those inspections, and how those individuals would be trained. This is, however, a nettle that needs to be grasped if we are to properly evaluate the impact of a system which increasingly relies on the ability of trusts to drive school improvement.

Read the Blueprint

18 See Our latest statistics: a first look at the EIF (Ofsted blog: schools, early years, further education and skills)

19 The Hoodinerney model or ‘How to fix the school system’

20 TRUST ISSUES - reforming the state school system in England
ASCL Blueprint