Press release

New analysis reveals dramatic differences in the challenges facing Regional Schools Commissioners

Regional variations in the number of underperforming schools raise potentially significant problems for tackling school underperformance

20 April 2017

NFER has analysed the latest performance data of all schools in England and identified the number of schools in each of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) areas that require support in order to improve. It found dramatic regional differences in the level of challenge faced by individual RSCs.

Two of the eight RSC regions (Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and East Midlands and the Humber) have more than 500 underperforming(1) schools in each of their jurisdictions. These same two regions also have the most schools in immediate need(2) that are likely to require rapid attention. In contrast, the North of England has nearly half this number of underperforming schools.

Researchers also investigated the capacity of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) to expand to take on and provide support to the most seriously underperforming schools in the different regions. Although nationally there appears to be available capacity among existing MATs, at a regional level there are stark differences.

Lancashire and West Yorkshire region faces the most serious shortfall in available sponsors although most other RSCs could face supply shortfalls when matching schools in need with available capacity. A priority for these RSCs will be to identify and attract new sponsors.

This latest analysis from NFER published today(3) is the second report from a study of the Regional Schools Commissioner areas across England undertaken in 2016/17. Part 1(4) was published in November 2016. Other key findings from today’s report include:

Lesley Duff, NFER’s Director of Research, said of NFER’s analysis: “NFER’s aim is to increase the evidence and insight available to policymakers and practitioners about what really works within a self-improving school system as well as what challenges exist at different levels within in it. What is becoming evident at a regional level, as at other levels within the school system, is that reforms take time to feed through and for the full implications and impact of their implementation to become clear. The Government should be circumspect about introducing further change and any proposals for change should be based firmly on available evidence.”


For further information contact: Pippa Cox 01753 637177 or Sundip Gill 01753 637218.

Notes for editors

  1. In September 2016, nearly 17 per cent of academies and LA-maintained schools in England could be classified as ‘underperforming’ because they were judged by Ofsted as being inadequate or requiring improvement, or because they were below the Government’s floor standard or met the criteria of a coasting school, or because they met a combination of these factors.
  2. A school is classified as being in immediate need if: it is rated as inadequate by Ofsted, or it is below the floor standards in 2015/16, and has been below the standard at least once in either 2013/14 or 2014/15, or it is below the floor standards in 2015/16, and has been rated as requires improvement by Ofsted. Where an academy falls within our definition of immediate need, we have assumed that it is not in immediate need if it is part of a MAT, and has joined that MAT in or after September 2013. This means an academy is classified as being in immediate need if it is a Single Academy Trust, or if it has joined its current MAT prior to September 2013.
  3. A Tale of Eight Regions. Part 2: Challenge and Support Across the Regional Schools Commissioner Areas. Slough: NFER Hillary, J., Bamford, S., Bernardinelli, D. and Gee, G. (2017).
  4. A Tale of Eight Regions Part 1: A snapshot of the evolving school system across Regional Schools Commissioner areas published in November 2016 explored the evolving schools landscape since RSCs were introduced and examined how regions have changed in terms of the number and proportion of academies and free schools across the RSCs areas.
  5. NFER published a first report on RSCs in September 2015 A Guide to Regional Schools Commissioners.
  6. RSCs are rapidly becoming an important and powerful part of the English education system. Appointed in September 2014 to oversee the growing numbers of academies in England, recent announcements have indicated that their roles will expand to include decision-making in tackling underperformance in LA-maintained schools and for coasting schools.
  7. NFER has a worldwide reputation for providing independent and rigorous research in education. As a charity, any surplus generated by the Foundation is reinvested in research projects to provide evidence that improves education and the life chances of learners in the UK and; @TheNFER