Agenda item


Purpose of the Report:


·         To outline the purpose and impact of SAfE.

·         To provide assurances that SAfE is meeting the council’s core statutory duties for school improvement, as well as steering the changes needed to support the achievement of a sector-led education partnership.

·         To provide a summary of the role of SAfE during the current COVID-19 crisis.



Julie Iles, Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning


Liz Mills, Director – Education, Learning and Culture

Maria Dawes, CEO – Schools Alliance for Excellence


Key points raised during the discussion:

  1. The CEO of the School’s Alliance for Excellence (SAfE) informed Members that SAfE was a non-profit, schools-led organisation seeking to bring coherence to the local education system to enable young people to achieve the best possible outcomes through education. Strong partnership working between schools and the other partners is key to the efficacy of SAfE. SAfE is contracted by Surrey County Council to deliver statutory school-improvement services on the behalf of the Local Authority. An objective of SAfE was to encourage all schools in Surrey to become members; currently two thirds of schools were signed up to pay the 89p-per-pupil subscription fee and the CEO hoped that this proportion would increase following the high levels of engagement seen from all schools with SAfE’s professional learning events which were provided free of charge during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  1. SAfE had identified 26 maintained primary, 2 secondary and 2 pupil referral units and special schools that needed additional school-improvement support. SAfE had worked with these schools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and had already started risk assessments for the following academic year. Owing to the pandemic, it was likely that there would be a 50% increase in the number of primary maintained schools that would require additional support from SAfE.


  1. SAfE had also helped schools to develop remote learning, risk assessments and reopening plans, had supported governors through webinars, and supported headteachers with their wellbeing, free of charge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Uptake and engagement from schools during this period had been significant.


  1. SAfE’s key roles in the coming year were to be supporting all schools to ensure that pedagogy and the learning children receive is of the highest quality and to narrow the learning gap, which would be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


  1. Paul Bailey, Partnership Development Manager, queried, on behalf of Simon Hart, Chair of the Surrey Safeguarding Children Partnership, whether safeguarding could be referenced in the objectives of SAfE. The CEO stated that the responsibility for safeguarding remained with the Local Authority but, nevertheless, SAfE always endeavoured to ensure the safeguarding of children and it remained a top priority. The Director stated that safeguarding was integral to the Local Authority’s Ofsted rating and explicitly stated in the contract with SAfE, adding that this matter could be tabled for further discussion at the board of directors.


  1. A Member highlighted that the majority of schools under the support and challenge category were Primary education settings and asked for what reasons this was so. The CEO stated that this was because there were only eleven maintained secondary schools; it was a product of the structure and status of a school, rather than due to Secondary settings outperforming Primary settings.


  1. Member asked about improving the educational performance of disadvantaged children in Key Stages 2 and 4. The CEO stated that, on average, disadvantaged children in Surrey performed worse than they might do in other areas; this was a key focus for SAfE. Schools were being supported through webinars to ensure that they did not lose focus on disadvantaged children, especially given the expected increased learning gaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Director was happy to provide information regarding exam results and performance when the data became available.


  1. A Member asked how SAfE supported senior school governors. The CEO responded that governors were key to enabling school improvement. Therefore, in partnership with Surrey County Council, SAfE offered four webinars to support governors during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to a part-time retained resource, SAfE was also working alongside Cognus Governor Services, the body which delivered the council’s statutory responsibilities in relation to school governance, to develop a new process for local leaders of governors. The Director informed the Committee that governors responded positively to these webinars and suggested that this method of engagement could be used in the future.


  1. A Member questioned why the contract between SAfE and the council had not yet been agreed. The CEO confirmed that the contract had been agreed since the report was drafted earlier in the year. The contract was to be amended to enable the transfer of statutory assessment and moderation duties from the council to SAfE.


  1. A Member asked whether SAfE was seeking to take contracts with other local authorities. The CEO stated that SAfE would not have any other contractual arrangements to deliver statutory school improvements in other local authorities, as the focus of SAfE was on ensuring that Surrey’s educational settings received the best support through a local education partnership.


  1. A Member expressed concern that the Director and the Assistant Director - Education sat on SAfE’s board of directors. The CEO informed the Committee that legal advice was taken when establishing the governance arrangements, safeguards were included in order to avoid conflicts of interest, and the board of directors’ membership was kept under review. The CEO stated that having representatives of the contracting local authority was typical of local education partnership boards. Board members declared any relevant interests at each meeting and would recuse themselves from decisions where a conflict of interest was present. Contract monitoring was conducted by the council’s commissioning team, rather than Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Directorate officers.


  1. With regard to an Ofsted inspection, a Member queried why one school had dropped from an ‘outstanding’ to ‘good’ rating, and why two previously ‘outstanding’ secondary schools were now rated ‘good’. The CEO responded that the new Ofsted framework introduced in September 2019 had a greater focus on school curricula and this was why the schools’ ratings were downgraded. SAfE was looking carefully at these schools and would provide support around curriculum development. The CEO assured the Committee that the decline in rating was not due to issues relating to safeguarding or outcomes for disadvantaged children.


  1. A Member noted that a number of schools did not provide adequate distance learning for pupils during the COVID-19 pandemic and asked how SAfE would ensure that all children educated in Surrey received the right level of education going forward. The CEO stated that during the last weeks of the academic summer term, SAfE had communicated with every school to check on risk assessments being carried out for the anticipated return to school in September. Moreover, the aim was for every school to have a contingency plan in place for remote learning in case of a second lockdown. A priority was to ensure that remote learning was of the same quality as that delivered in school settings, should it be required again.


  1. A Member asked how SAfE differed from the previous provider that Surrey contracted to deliver school improvement services, Babcock 4S. The CEO explained that Babcock 4S was a commercial company which had an 80% joint-venture arrangement with Surrey County Council. SAfE is a schools-led company which worked closely with the Local Authority and is staffed by team of eight which utilises existing expertise from within the school system. The rest of SAfE’s partners are schools and SAfE was working with them to further develop the partnership’s priorities. SAfE had joined the Association for Local Education Partnerships and worked with their counterparts in other areas.


  1. A Member asked about the pressures on governors and whether those were appropriate. The CEO commented that there were variety of governance roles and SAfE needed to work with governors to clarify their roles and to increase their skills.


  1. A Member asked how much money the council had spent on consultants during the development of SAfE. The Director stated that Christine Gilbert had worked nationally on the development of educational partnerships and had been used by Surrey County Council in an invest-to-save approach. Christine Gilbert had been consulted to carry out targeted work and her experience meant that the partnership could be developed in a timelier manner. The consultant had provided templates and model educational partnerships to inform the development of SAfE. The Director was content to share the level of funding with the Select Committee.


  1. A Member questioned why one-third of schools in Surrey had not joined SAfE. The CEO informed the Committee that SAfE was delivering the council’s statutory responsibility for delivering school improvement, therefore even those schools which had not signed up to SAfE were still risk assessed and were supported by the partnership. Analysis was being undertaken to show non-member schools how they had benefitted from the free services that SAfE provided during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CEO explained that the organisation emphasised a collective approach to improving education and would promote this to encourage high-performing schools to support lower-performing ones.


  1. A Member cited the education recovery plan for Surrey and asked the Director whether emotional recovery and mental health would be looked at, particularly for those who could not sit their GCSE. The CEO notified the Committee that emotional recovery was being looked at and planned for. Schools and sixth form colleges were working to put plans in place to ameliorate the emotional gaps suffered by young people. The recovery curriculum would cover social and emotional aspects for children.



i.              For the Director to provide information regarding exam results and educational performance of disadvantaged children in Surrey.


ii.             For the Director to share the cost of consulting on the establishment of SAfE with the Select Committee.



i.              That the Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning give an update on the work of the Schools Alliance for Excellence at the January 2021 meeting of the Select Committee.


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